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The Joy Formidable – Manchester, 15 Oct 2011

Joy Formidable Manchester 9

The scene of the crime –  a sold out Academy 2 in Manchester. There had been frantic messages on the fan forum for a couple of days and the touts were doing brisk business outside. Inside, the ever elaborate stage set for The Joy Formidable was now nautically themed, with what looked like the sawn off front half of a light house to go with the ship’s wheels, bells and the rest of the shenanigans.

First a word on the 2 supports. Creatures Of Love (the ‘new’ band of TJF’s manager Joel) please the crowd with proper gothic and doom laden witchy weirdness. Bonita has a great voice for this kind of thing. What with the cloak, the smoke, the stage at times only lit by strobes under the keyboards or tiny bare bulbs, it was compelling and atmospheric. They were totally worth seeing, and will need to be checked out some more despite their very creepy current video, featuring as it does lots of lingering shots of Japanese schoolgirls’ legs. I feel grubby even mentioning it.

Next up were And So I Watch You From Afar. What can I say?  Loads of enthusiasm, but not my thing. It was like speed guitar celtic prog rock, with only the odd yelp in the way of vocals. There were plenty of heads nodding enthusiastically, nearly every single one of them male. I looked, I checked. The typical couple of the moment appeared as follows –  bloke in guitar fantasy heaven, the missus looking bored. This band are guaranteed a dedicated following who will mainly be wearing anoraks.

And, as they say, on to the main event. The Joy Formidable are fresh back from US touring, including a rite-of-passage Letterman appearance. They’ve always been 110% solid but tonight are, if anything, grown is stature and most definitely enjoying the moment. Ritzy is all smiles; it’s difficult to see Rhydian’s face under the brim of his cap but the grin is well in evidence.

Matt has his drum kit positioned firmly on the front edge of the stage, any further forward and he’d fall into the pit. I can’t think of any drummer more tightly integrated into a band, and tonight, when Ritzy’s guitar has a moment, he good naturedly starts a chant with his drum sticks, arms gesturing a mocking “come on, get on with it!” He’s eager to rock.
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TJF are a family affair – Ritzy’s mum Angie was backstage ironing Ritzy’s stage frock earlier, and now pops out at the side to catch the action. Dad John is also in attendance, and both are at the after-show. It’s like that with fans too – the more rabid ones forming a sort of extended family, following the tour. Tonight, thirteen of them will sleeping on one local followers’s sofa and floor. This goes some way to explaining the shouts in a quiet portion “Rhydian…Rhydian…” “What, what do you want?” he answers back from the stage, sounding slightly exasperated but knowing full well that it’s one of the regulars. “Rhydian…Rhydian…” “WHAT?” “Take your hat off, take your hat off…” He does not comply with the request, knowing full well that if he did, it would only be something else next. Ritzy tells them from the stage in her polite-girl voice to “shut the fuck up”, riposting that they, “all you blokes there” as she puts it, should in turn take their trousers off. Don’t tempt them, within moments an item of clothing is thrown and flops onto the stage. Thankfully it’s a tee shirt, one of those inspired by Ritzy’s little black dresses, the ones with pretty lace around the collar. This particular shirt would otherwise be stretched across the middle-aged  torso of a (male) Gunners fan in the audience.
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It is the warm, welcoming, crushing wall of sound we’ve come to expect, loud enough that a good proportion of the older end of the age-range can be marked by their neon yellow ear plugs. For the rest of us, it will be a buzzing reminder for a few days. It’s notable that down-the-front is now a predominantly young experience. The only sour note of the night, and it’s a pretty sour one, is one of these boys crowd surfing. No problem with that, but when you’re caught by the bouncers, well the game is up. Not this tosser, he lashes out and punches a young girl on the front row square in the nose, so that, dripping blood, she has to be pulled out by security herself, giving up the front row spot she’d queued an hour for. He of course melts away into a crowd of his mates. Oh well, such are gigs.

There are no surprises in the set list, not even ‘Endtapes’, the new one written for the Twilight sound-track. This does however make for a fan pleasing night. Particular favourites like ‘Greatest Light’ and ‘Whirring’ see some of the erstwhile shoe-gazers in the audience pushing into the melee, to emerge three and a half minutes later, dripping in sweat and hugging anyone in their way like loved-up ravers of yore. Ritzy announces at one point from the stage that there will be an after-party at the nearby Ruby Lounge, saying she doesn’t know what she’ll do if all 1000 in tonight’s audience turn up, but “fuck it”, they “just should and it will be fine”.

I’m close enough to see there’s no encore written on the set list, but they come back to finish the job with ‘Greyhounds In The Slips’ and ‘Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie’, which is by now sufficiently sing-along familiar for that to be the way the night ends, apart from those  getting ready for round two at that after-party. As the crowd empty out, the floor is a mess of sticky liquid, several pairs of broken spectacles and other unidentifiable detritus. It was that sort of night.

Setlist / Abacus / Magnifying Glass / Austere / Ostrich / Greatest Light / Cradle / Buoy / I Don’t Wanna See You Like This / Wild Flies / Whirring // Greyhounds / Everchanging Spectrum of a Lie

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  1. Great review Mike although Mr Power may take issue with being called a Gunner.
    The Joy Formidable never fail to deliver with their live performances, can’t wait for new material,album etc etc. They must be one of the hardest working bands out there and they deserve every success.

  2. Amazing photography, Mike. Love the review. I couldn’t agree more with Marra — this is the hardest working band on tour. “Rhydian…Rhydian…” “WHAT?” LOL.

  3. Oops – I thought all the Daves were gooners, as well as Chris, and, well basically everyone else from the down the front crew. DP, if you see this, I owe you a pint in recompense for the heinous insult

  4. A most excellent review for a most excellent band. They never fail to amaze me with their energy and more than all of that I love them for the beautiful people they are, it may well sound very southern and soft arse but my life is all the better for their existence. With regard to my “Fancy Collar” I believe that Ritz was quiet jealous……As for the slur on my reputation don’t worry cos No one likes us and we don’t care. Take care Mike and keep up the excellent work

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