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JUSTICE TONIGHT - MICK JONES/ PETE WYLIE/THE FARM/ STONE ROSES @ HMV RITZ, MANCHESTER - REVIEW BY NIGEL CARTNER

‘FROM MANCHESTER WITH LOVE’

In 1986, Tony Wilson organised a charity gig in support of Militant Tendency in Liverpool, titled, ‘From Manchester with Love’, in an attempt to unite the citizens by supporting the trade union struggle against the Labour Government’s incomes policy. It was a compassionate deed of respect that united these two great cities, showing that when serious matters are cause for concern, we can put aside the ever lasting banter and hatred associated with North Western personal rivalry, predominately through football, and unite to be a powerful force to be reckoned with. However, it is tragedy within football, and the political and media actions that brings us to The Ritz in Manchester tonight, and a similar act of sympathy organised, this time by Liverpudlians in Manchester, but a similar message of respect still enforced from fellow Mancunians, again putting aside any sporting animosity.

On the back of a highly successful and emotional ‘Don’t Buy The Sun’ gig in September, organised by Mick Jones of ‘The Clash’ (performing ‘Clash’ songs for the first time in 20 years), backed by Pete Wylie of ‘The Mighty Wah’ and acid house band ‘The Farm’, it was quickly decided to take it to the next level under the banner of ‘Justice Tonight’, recreating that same on-stage magic whilst spreading the word of the devastation and struggles that families and friends have been subject to since the aftermath, seeking answers and justice against those that caused the deaths of so many innocent lives, whilst being unfairly and falsely portrayed by the media and the government as part of a monumental cover up, antagonizing not only our Merseyside colleagues, but the nation and world as a whole. The gig is charitable, all musicians playing for free and all proceeds going to the ‘Hillsborough Justice Campaign’, organised by bereaved families, survivors and supporters campaigning for justice for the 96 people who died at Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough football ground on 15th April 1989.

To say that this campaign would only appeal to and be aimed at Merseyside is preposterous as the six night tour across The U.K. exceeded expectation in ticket sales in Cardiff, Manchester, Sheffield, London, Liverpool and Glasgow.

The idea of these legendary acts getting together on stage for such a worthwhile cause has wet the appetites of most music fans, and that is what brings me here tonight. Front of the queue, freezing my ***** off, I’m told by one of the venue operators who the special guests will be tonight. The idea was that a different special guest would perform live in each city the tour played, and the guest(s) would hail from that region. When I found out the choice for Manchester’s, it warmed me slightly, especially as they left the building, walking right passed me into chauffeur driven cars to remain anonymous for the time being, but more on that later.

The newly revamped HMV Ritz took its time to fill, but eventually did with hoards of original ‘Clash’ fans making their way menacingly into the venue to relive the energy of the past. Mike Joyce from The Smiths was spinning old familiar punk tunes on his decks, before John Robb, compere and blogger for the tour came on to say a few motivational words to lift the crowd. He explained the reasons for the gig, ending with an honest and powerful message about the media, “Fuck Rupert Murdoch” being the apt choice of words used. He ended by announcing the first act, Liam Frost, who must’ve found it a privilege to be opening for such a huge event, in terms of the whole concept and who he was supporting. Not that the pressure got to him as he played a few tracks on his electric guitar solo, serenading the audience in a bluesy fashion, ending with a fitting cover of ‘Echo  The Bunnymen’s’, ‘Killing Moon’.

Then, the big guns were brought out, starting with ‘The Farm’, opening with the 1990 classic, ‘Groovy Train’, always reminding me of football in the early 90s with its distinctive, intricate guitar intro associated with the early Premier League years. Their short set ended with the timeless ‘All Together Now’, still striking just as big a chord today as much as its initial release, being abundantly significant to the theme of the show as the crowd echoed singer Peter Hooton’s lyrics throughout the song.

Shortly after, Mick Jones and Pete Wylie appeared to rapturous applause, Wylie sporting a “Don’t Buy The Sun” T-shirt in protest to the horrific headlines they printed in the wake of the tragedy. They roared through a selection of songs from Wylie’s career including, ‘Story of the Blues’, ‘Sinful’ and the official Hillsborough tribute video track, ‘Heart as Big as Liverpool’, a favourite amongst Liverpool F.C fans. Jones on the guitar was elegant and raw, never ceasing to smile, dressed sharply like a character from ‘The Godfather’ in his black pin stripe suit, cool, rock n roll, loveable yet scary. The fans waited patiently for him and Wylie to perform ‘Clash’ favourites, which they duly did, ripping their way through classic songs such as ‘'Stay Free', Clampdown’, ‘Train in Vain’and the legendary Should I Stay or Should I Go’, with ‘The Farm’ forming the base of the band, even Hooton filling in as backing singer. It was clear from the moment all individuals hit the stage together that they had a deep, emotional connection that still wrenches the heartstrings for the catastrophic events of 22 years ago, moving us with their thoughts, reasons and acknowledgements throughout the show, and of course the enthusiasm at which they played.

Wylie gave a few messages of appreciation to the fans, empathising that a point has been proved that Manchester and Liverpool can unite for a worthy cause, despite wrongfully being told otherwise, also paying tribute to the Munich Tragedy in 1958. The crowd greeted his feelings with continuous chants of “Justice for the 96”. Wylie then informed us to hang on for special guests who will be “well worth sticking around for”. After a minute or two’s anticipation, two figures appeared from the shadows and smoke at the back, both having not appeared on stage together for over fifteen years. With the promise of a huge name and the recent publicity surrounding them, the only two who it could be made all the fans dreams come true as ‘Madchester’ icons John Squire and Ian Brown took to the stage. Half the place seemed stunned, but the other half cheered thunderously. They played anti-monarchist short ballad ‘Elizabeth My Dear’, apparently at the request of Jones, as a teaser to what to expect in six months time when there long awaited comeback tour takes centre stage in the music scene. It was a pleasure to witness such a monumental landmark in music history. Firstly, Mick Jones performing ‘Clash’ songs for the first time in over twenty years, and now this, completely ground breaking stuff. Not only that, Squire and Brown remained onstage as the rest of the musicians joined them, performing two ‘Clash’ songs, ‘Bankrobber’ and ‘Armgideon Time’. It was fantasy like scenes, Brown, Jones, Squire, Wylie, and The Farm all on stage together, seven guitars in total, Jones standing parallel to Squire as they played side by side together. Jones bared that same cheeky grin that never left his face throughout the show, while Squire maintained that cool, unhinged, piercing rock n roll stare, accustomed to his Stone Roses playing days. Squire and Brown departed after three songs and left the rest to finish the set with an encore. For one of them, John Robb launched onto the barrier with the mic, giving the audience a chance to sing along to more ‘Clash’ classics.

Messages poured in again at the end, the passion and emotion that fuelled the show was mirrored in statements about never forgetting Hillsborough, and to keep the fight going in the quest for answers and justice, making those people at fault pay for the negligence shown. It was a night where the football rivalry was put aside as something much bigger entered the equation, uniting common foes in a fight against a much greater cause and enemy, the government, and media. It was a display of how closely rock n roll and football is linked, and how both support each other for the greater good.

By all accounts, the tour has been gathering momentum, the Sheffield show a day later seemingly of better all round quality as the musicians get used to playing with one on another again. With the passionate charge felt throughout the show, both musically and from the tragic memories, there is no reason why the tour can’t go beyond the original six nights planned. Peter Hooton said it best as he left the stage, “Look what music and rock n roll can do.” I echo those sentiments, the power and music of rock n roll can be enough to gain support and a voice large enough to be heard, not just for Hillsborough, but in any attrocity.

It was a night made memorable for many reasons, Mick Jones back playing ‘Clash’ songs, Ian Brown and John Squire reuniting for the first time in over fifteen years, Pete Wylie and The Farm onstage performing together with these colossal acts, creating a mouth watering super group on stage, but most of all, lest we never forget and carry on support for the ‘Justice for the 96 Campaign’.

Hillsborough Justice Campaign - www.contrast.org/hillsborough

Review by Nigel Carter
Photos by Mel [except Ian Brown by Phil King]