Martin the Mod’s all-nighters at Manchester’s Zombie Shack and Thirsty Scholar pub below are among the most significant and enduring music staples of Manchester culture. With quality and relative obscurity given priority over outright popularity, Martin’s all-nighters are the perfect place for Mancunians looking to be educated musically, who come out to discover something they haven’t heard before. It might be Friday 13th, but anyone who ventured to Zombie Shack this particular night in search of top quality music is in luck. As the centrepoint of Manchester Mod culture, there can be no better night to play host to Chris Pope & The Chords UK, the current incarnation of classic 80s Mod icons The Chords; supported by The Speed of Sound, one of the most exciting, long-lasting and innovative bands on the Manchester underground.
A firm refuge away from the hipster culture that is consuming not only most of the Northern Quarter, but much of Manchester in general now, with its continuous exploitation and regurgitation of Madchester anthems we’ve all heard a gazillion times before, Zombie Shack tonight is where the real excitement is at.
The Speed of Sound open the night with a storming set. They begin with their signature tune “Shut All The Clubs”, lead single from their acclaimed 2016 album release “Everything Changes”, and a hit with listeners of Manchester and Salford’s numerous underground radio shows. With its lyrics’ biting attack on gentrification and the authorities’ shameless erosion of subcultural lifestyles, it is a real anthem for the culturally oppressed in this day and age. Lead singer and guitarist John Armstrong’s distinctive vocal delivery and guitar style get the music off to a swinging start, complimented by the infectious bass grooves of bassist Kevin Roache, percussion from co-vocalist Ann-Marie Crowley and drum rhythms from Anthony Edwards, standing in tonight for regular drummer Paul Worthington during his break from the band.
The band follow with a selection of tunes from the aforementioned album, Armstrong and Crowley swapping vocal duties between songs. Armstrong is a powerful frontman, his modest but lively showmanship and Bryan Ferry-esque vocal style guiding the band smoothly through a set that never becomes dull or repetitive. Their music shows distinctive traces of New York art rock and No Wave, often verging on the experimental and psychedelic while never losing its melody or infectious catchiness. Ann-Marie Crowley, herself an understated heroine of the Manchester underground with her previous role as lead singer of Poppycock, is an artist you just cannot help but respect, her vocals on songs such as “The Moment Is Now” at times evocative of Nico with traces of Chrissie Hynde, her stage presence modest and unassuming yet powerful in its very humbleness. This band is about great art and infectious avant-garde pop without the ego or posturing that often comes with bands obsessed with hitting the big time. The band’s sound is very strong on both new and old songs, as well as the two cover versions, of The Flirtations’ “Nothing But A Heartache” and their lively cover of The Primitives’ “Crash”. Their set is brought to a close by a striking performance of their 1989 song “Glide on By”.
The Speed of Sound’s set would have been worth coming out for in itself, but this is an all-nighter, and it is time for Chris Pope, one of the greatest and most influential icons of the late 70s mod revival, to take the stage with The Chords UK. The excitement in the air among die-hard fans and long-time followers of Pope’s work is all too apparent as the band takes to the stage for the night’s headline set. The band launches into an explosive rendition of The Chords’ classic 1980 single “Something’s Missing” and the venue explodes into a euphoric excitement and raw frenzy, the dancefloor instantaneously springing to life.
The set that follows is a healthy combination of vintage and new, incorporating all of the original band’s classic singles for Polydor plus a selection of tunes from their newest release, the excellent 2016 album “Take on Life”. Both old and new followers of the band are totally enraptured this evening, singing along and dancing enthusiastically to the band’s storming repertoire of mod anthems, propelled by Chris Pope’s powerful stage presence.
The band delivers a fantastic set infused with raw energy and power, without a single dud moment. Backed by the current line-up of Mic Stoner, Kenny Cooper and Sandy Michie, Pope leads us, with the intense venom of his vocal delivery, through such anthems as the band’s recent single “Heart of the Matter”, new single “Man on the Northern Line”, and classics such as “So Far Away” and the legendary “British Way of Life” and “Maybe Tomorrow” in the encore. All songs, old and new, effortlessly bring the crowd together in rapturous singalong. Little more than young lads in the original band’s early 80s heyday, Chris Pope now leads an incarnation of the band that is older and wiser, but no less brash and energetic, and proves he has lost absolutely nothing in terms of musical talent and the knack to write infectiously catchy tunes imbued with raw venom and fresh vitality. After a break of over three decades, if anything the benefits of age and experience have only improved the band’s output and live show. This is the music of the streets, music that speaks for the people, without any of the pretensions or superficial gloss of hipster culture or manufactured pop. Pope’s revival of his old project, as The Chords UK, is not about nostalgia at all – tonight he proves he’s back in the game because he still has something to say, and still possesses the brash energy of his youth, combined with the benefit of a more mature outlook that makes for a powerful and exhilarating live experience. The new songs stand firmly alongside the Mod classics of yesteryear and make for a breathtaking show by a band whose well-deserved legacy just demands more recognition in the current musical climate.
As the bands pack up their equipment, and Martin the Mod takes to the DJ decks for his regular all-nighter showcasing the endless examples of lost and obscure music in his collection, this night serves as a perfect celebration of underground talent, and how true musical talent and integrity always stands the test of time- especially outside of the mainstream eye.
The Chords UK – Get Me To Saturday Night:
The Speed of Sound – Shut All The Clubs
Martin the Mod Official Facebook: