Photography: Paul McCoy /

A Certain Ratio

Phase One 23/6/19

40th anniversary tours are generally pale imitations of a band in their heyday, with connotations of rockers past their best giving lacklustre performances even Status Quo fans would swerve. A CERTAIN RATIO, however, not only meet the expectations of those who remember these Flixton natives during the Factory Records post-punk explosion of the late 70s, but also gain a fair few new converts to their music during the night. But then again, talent and good tunes always win the day.

Unsurprisingly, given the nature of the tour and the release of their new album acr:box, which comprises over 50 tracks of well known material and some unreleased songs, the set list is a trajectory through their career.

It starts with 1979’s debut single All Night Party, with its repetitive rhythmic guitar and heavy metallic sound inspired by their industrial Manchester setting. The track segues into their recent cover of Talking Heads’ Houses In Motion. The cowbells, bongos and whistles which come out for the tracks from 1990’s acr:mcr (Be What You Wanna Be and Won’t Stop Loving You) take it up a notch or two and conjure up the spirit of the times.

The crowd is made up of diehard fans and music aficionados with a real appreciation for how good the band are. But it’s surprising there are not more people eager to see them; tonight’s gig is relatively quiet and empty, especially for a band with A Certain Ratio’s calibre and history. What it is does allow for, though, is an intimate gig that’s a pleasure to be at. There’s enough people here with love for the band and their songs that dancing breaks out sporadically. And by the end of the gig everyone around the room is moving – on and off stage there’s joy and palpable passion for the music.

It’s clear the band still enjoy playing together, too, and vocalist Denise Johnson extends this throughout the venue as she banters with the audience. Technically they’re excellent. A fair few musicians are multi-instrumentalists, but to add a certain frisson to the experience, Martin Moscop and Donald Johnson swap over between guitar and drum mid-song, which isn’t something that can be done without years of practice. They literally clamber over instruments on the cramped stage without missing a beat or a chord. The bass playing by Jez Kerr is hypnotic, reverberating round the small room round better than any recording in post-production.

It’s an energetic and entertaining gig that belies the age of both the band and the majority of the people in here, those of which should be so lucky to get the opportunity to see the band in such an intimate space again. They’re as fresh as they were at the start of their career and could give some younger groups a good run for their money. If and when the chance arises again, whatever you do, do not miss out.

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