Band and crowd's Beatles love-in
Live In The City: Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
Bught Park, Inverness
THE one expected special guest Inverness didn’t get on the bill for Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds on Saturday was the promised rainstorm.
Though what seemed to be bothering the star more by song 12 on the setlist was the summerbright Highland sky which he told us would “spoil the drama” that the show normally has in the twilight for third Oasis hit The Masterplan.
“Doesn’t it ever get f***ing dark here? No wonder you’re all alcoholics!” he grinned at the crowd, who had come from places like Fife and Forfar as well as the North, part of a night of banter back and forth at the Bught Park stage.
Describing your audience as looking like “a holding pen for the Jeremy Kyle Show” isn’t the most complimentary description, but slagging off Manchester and Noel’s beloved Manchester City football club was always going to be risky.
Starting his set with a full-on run of five of the melody-heavy, strongest songs from his latest 2017 album Who Built The Moon? had softened up any impatient Oasis fan mentally drumming their fingers and waiting for that guaranteed singalong later in the night.
No scissor player (Charlotte Marionneau) now in the line-up, but Gem Archer, coolest mod after Weller with lots of guitar delay on the newest album numbers, YSEE and Jess Greenfield on backing vocals (Jess also on keys and YSEE on the retro phone for Beautiful World), Mikey Rowe adding shimmering keyboard to Dead In The Water and Stop Crying Your Heart Out, and ex-Zutons’ Russell Pritchard standing shoulder to shoulder with Noel on bass and vocals plus Chris Sharrock on drums and a sax, trumpet and trombone in the brass section. Quite a musical family.
The crowd had been nicely warmed up by two homegrown bands getting their big chance in front of the almost 13,000.
Lional from Inverness kicked in with Season Of Salt which offered an instant calling card to their retro indie influences and an introduction to frontman Joshua Mackenzie’s killer guitar lines and deep resonant vocals that are a contemporary incarnation of everyone from Edwyn Collins to – as the guy next to me instantly said – “Joy Division’s Ian Curtis!”.
Dropping in current single Daylight Hours, there was another newer song from the four-piece before Sex & Death, then a couple of older songs, including My Design with its percussive guitar – that one dedicated to “the Hilton Mental Crew”. And before last song Good To You, Josh said: “I don’t like to get sentimental at gigs, but there are some people who should have been here today and I’d like to dedicate this song to Liam Colgan who loved Oasis and Noel Gallagher and was really supportive of us as a band and it’s right he should be here in some way.”
It was the first in a night of songs with emotional memories attached – Neon Waltz had one too – and fitting it came from a stage, as Joshua had told the crowd, that had been built so thoughtfully near Glenurquhart Road and Ness Bank, where their band had written their songs.
The hoisting of Neon Waltz’s monochrome backdrop on the stage signalled that these days the Caithness band is getting used to playing bigger stages – but the Inverness one was closer than most.
At the end of their set, frontman Jordan Shearer said: “Thank you Inverness, it’s lovely to play such a big gig so close to home. This is a rarity for us. Maybe see you on the other side!”
Ten songs – with five taken from the band’s debut album Strange Hymns – immersed the crowd in the rich psychedelic rock sound of the six-piece. Jordan is a convincing performer with a voice that was showcased on newer song Black Boys On Mopeds with its pared-back instrumentation and his vocals also sang out on Dreamers and final number Perfect Frame with its singalong sha-la-las for us too – both big moment songs that ended on a high.
Razorlight ramped up the pace and Johnny Borrell dug in – rampaging across the stage like an uncaged beast and providing the only reverse scissor kick of the night. A surprise too to recollect as they rolled them out, just how many ace songs Razorlight have had so far – Rip It Up, In The Morning, Golden Touch, Stumble & Fall, Before I Fall To Pieces, In The City and with a dig at Donald Trump, big finisher America.
With a High Flying Birds set for Inverness that left out Oasis’s The Importance Of Being Idle from the night before’s Heaton Park gig in Manchester, we still got eight Oasis songs, plus two from Noel’s first HFB first album, six from the latest one, plus a Beatles cover and one of his latest singles, the hypnotic dance-edged Black Star Dancing.
The band were halfway through second number, glam-rocker Holy Mountain, before Noel broke in to say: “Good evening, Inverness. We are High Flying Birds!”
The run of songs from the latest album quickly told you one thing – happy, confident and singing his heart out, Noel Gallagher is into a new era of songwriting, with songs like She Taught Me How To Fly as heavy on the singable choruses as ever, but as far on from Oasis-style choruses as anyone who wants to keep creating can be.
Poised somewhere between playing more Oasis numbers and fewer, eight is a happy medium, but Noel couldn’t resist a touch of sarcastic humour as he introduced the first.
“Evening, Inverness. How’s everybody doing? Good day? I see by the amount of leisurewear here that there are a few Oasis fans,” he said, as the band launched into Talk Tonight, then Little By Little, the crowd warming up and in great voice.
But it was back to High Flying Birds’ song Dead In The Water next, just Noel with acoustic guitar and keyboard-player Mikey Rowe for a change of dynamic, an intimate moment and a song that the crowd seemed to know well enough to join in.
When Noel tried to dedicate AKA … What A Life – after Everybody’s On The Run – to “Manchester City supporters”, he got a boo from the audience.
“You’ve been f***ing great so far. We’re entering the karaoke part of the show now where you do all the singing cos I can’t be a***d. We had a big night in Manchester last night…”
Someone in the crowd interrupted.
“You having a go at Manchester?” Noel challenged. “You pray you are lucky enough to live in Manchester. You’re living in Inverness, in the middle of nowhere!”
The Masterplan moved straight into Wonderwall – the intro greeted with a big cheer and the volume of the singalong moving up a couple of notches. And when the intro to Stop Crying Your Heart Out started up, so did the ‘Herewef***inggo!” chorus.
“Do you sing that on the way to the Post Office?” Noel laughed. “I’ll dedicate this last song to your football club for next season – which will be as s*** as this season!”
It wasn’t the last song, as he realised by the next one.
A Burt Bacharach-style arrangement showcasing the brass section made Half The World Away a mellow warm-up for the song Noel says – in the tour book which was on sale from the merchandise stall – that he hasn’t remotely begun to tire of, Don’t Look Back In Anger.
Before last song The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love with its mutual adoration between crowd and band, Don’t Look Back In Anger is the one where memory and the future bump up against each other.
Don't Look Back In Anger was one of two big goosebumps moments for me, the other the newest of the set, Black Star Dancing – a signal of HFB goodies to come?
Looking around you on the night, there were tears in the eyes of a few tapping into other times, maybe good or bad, through Don't Look Back In Anger.
So what does it feel like, Noel Gallagher, to look out across all those faces and cast the spell into the past with the words “Slip inside the eye of your mind …”?
What does it feel like to witness thousands of people singing their hearts out straight back at you?
Does it make you feel like king of the world?
Or does it make you tremble with fear because you want future songs to match that, better it, push your music forward, see it weaving itself into new lives and memories?
Between songs, Noel cast his eyes up from time to time at that strangely bright Inverness sky, seagulls flying up there, the odd plane passing overhead, but still plenty of room for the dreams of High Flying Birds to soar.