Johnny Marr and The Charlatans – two of the UK’s most beloved music legends – teamed up on Saturday for an incredible co-headline show at The Piece Hall in Halifax, and it was the perfect end to the huge array of events that the historic Yorkshire venue has hosted this Summer.
Before Johnny and The Charlatans unleashed their barrage of bulletproof anthems, the crowd were treated to a snappy support slot from local indie band, Wax-Tree-Cast. Featuring exhilarating guitar work from Blair Murray, alluring vocals from Oolagh Hodgson and pummelling beats from James Newsome, the three-piece stormed through a set of punchy tracks – including their latest single, ‘Oliver Reed’ – and definitely left a lasting impression.
Next up was everyone’s favourite guitarist, Johnny Marr, who kicked his set off with the eco anthem ‘Armatopia’ before diving into ‘Panic’ – his first Smiths offering of the evening that featured a cheeky lyric change acknowledging the shows location; “Dublin, Dundee, Halifax”. Keeping energy levels high, next up was the synth driven ‘Sensory Street’ from his latest album, Fever Dreams Pts.1-4, which perfectly demonstrated not just Johnny’s ambition, but also his talent of experimenting with a wealth of genres and styles throughout his career.
When it comes to writing a strong set list, Johnny’s the master of it and though the Smiths tracks are always guaranteed to get the crowd moving, his solo tracks shine just as bright and this was particularly evident when he went from the raucous ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ to the buoyant ‘Spirit, Power & Soul’ – the lead single of his latest album that’s anchored by a driving, disco-esque beat, courtesy of drummer, Jack Mitchell. Having recently celebrated the ten year anniversary of his debut solo album, Johnny’s been placing more of a focus on new material on his current run of dates and after the anthemic ‘This Charming Man’, he impressed with a shimmering new track titled ‘Somewhere’.
As dry ice flooded the stage, Johnny reduced the tempo with the breathtakingly intense ‘Walk Into The Sea’ – boasting one of his strongest vocal performances of the set – before the poignant ‘Hi Hello’ and a jarring cover of Depeche Mode‘s ‘I Feel You’ that placed his powerhouse of a band in the limelight. Since embarking on his solo career, Johnny’s vocals have gone from strength to strength and this was most apparent during his emotive rendition of the ‘Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want’. Knowing what the crowd were after, there was no time to reflect on such a sublime moment before the familiar tremolo-heavy guitar riff of ‘How Soon Is Now’ was echoing around the venue.
After a joyous performance of one of Johnny’s most well received solo tracks, ‘Easy Money’ – which appeared to feature even more guitar wizardry than usual – Johnny introduced the “national treasure” that is Tim Burgess to the stage for Electronic classic ‘Getting Away With It’. With Tim on vocals, Johnny was freed up to tackle harmonies that resulted in a fresh rework of a classic track – not to forget his usual awe-inspiring guitar breakdown that was almost perfectly timed with dusk. It was clear to see from start to finish that both Johnny and Tim share a mutual respect for each other and were delighted to be sharing the stage together. After multiple hugs, Tim left the stage and Johnny’s set came to an end with ‘There is a Light that Never Goes Out’.
The Charlatans opened their set with ‘With No Shoes’ before launching into the laid back grooves of ‘Can’t Get Out of Bed’, complete with punching vocals from Tim. Next up was ‘Just When You’re Thinkin’ Things Over’ from the band’s debut album – frequently labelled as one of their greatest songs, the timeless track soared live and had the crowd moving from front to back.
Though the Charlatans rose to fame in the 90’s, they sounded as fresh as ever as they stormed through a set of crowd favourites – from lesser played tracks such as ‘Toothache’ and ‘Then’ to the anthemic ‘North Country Boy’. Brimming with the youthful exuberance and onstage persona that he’s renowned for, Tim had the crowd in the palm of his hands from the get go and the set appeared to speak when the explosive ‘Weirdo’ was followed by ‘One to Another’, which remains to be the band’s highest charting song in the UK.
When a band has a charismatic frontman that commands the stage like Tim does, it can be easy to forget those out of the direct spotlight but as the sound and swagger of ‘The Only One I Know’ kicked in, we could focus on nothing other than the multitude of musical expertise that Tim shares the stage with. As the band ended their set with the blizzard of noise that is ‘How High’ – complete with Martin Blunt’s trademark bass and Mark Collins’ guitar loops – it was easy to see why they’re so highly regarded in the British music scene.
After returning for their encore with ‘I Don’t Want to See the Sights’, the opening track to their second studio album Between 10th and 12th, the band re-introduced Johnny Marr to the stage and there was one song in particular that everybody was hoping for – ‘Plastic Machinery’ was from the 2017 released Different Days. Co-written by Johnny and Brian Jonestown Massacre frontman Anton Newcombe, the track features crashing guitars that were brought a moment of utter euphoria to the Piece Hall, illustrating the band’s ongoing ability to produce incredibly well received music. Last but not least was fan favourite ‘Sproston Green’, which sent the crowd wild one more time, bringing the night to a rapturous end.
As well as a stellar set from an up and coming band, Saturday night brought together two remarkable sets from two artist with illustrious careers that confirmed that they’re both still at the top of their game. The set up may have been just for that one night, but it was certainly a night that will stay in the hearts and minds of those lucky enough to be there for years to come.
Photos: Wax-Tree-Cast & Johnny Marr (Laura Dean) | The Charlatans (Caroline Allen)