Wirral Live (formerly Wirral Rocks) is a relatively new event, a mini festival that launched last year seemingly as a showcase for mainstream pop acts and nostalgia bands. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: the headliners Will Young and Status Quo seemed to pull in their fair share of happy customers. This year though, they seem to have made a statement of intent about their future credibility, slotting in an indie evening between Madness and Little Mix. Seeing as though the venue, Tranmere Rovers football ground, is literally a three minute walk from my house, I couldn’t really turn down the chance to see The Libertines, especially when they were being supported by The Coral. Reverend and the Makers were a nice bonus for me.
It’s worth noting that a fourth band was added to the bill really late on, but because of some sort of scheduling mix up we were only made aware of this via email ten minutes before they took to the stage. Which meant that most people, like me, were either still at home or en route and wouldn’t have been able to get there in time to see them. Which is a shame, because I checked out The Hummingbirds on Spotify after the event and they seem like a decent local band, firmly rooted in Liverpool’s music history with an authentic Merseybeat sound, a smattering of rockabilly and psychedelia. Very much in the same vein as The Coral, The Zutons and The La’s. Anyway, I can only speculate as to how good they might have been.
First up, for me anyway, were Reverend and the Makers who delivered a solid opening set. I don’t know a lot about the band to be honest, but they sounded good and gave it a lot of energy, their lead singer Jon McClure coming across as a slightly more sweary Guy Garvey from Elbow. Their best song, to my ears, was the new one they previewed which had some great gothic bluesy guitar riffs on it. They also gave up five minutes of their set to allow Jeremy Corbyn onto the stage who was in the Wirral area for the day. Whatever your politics, it provided a spine chilling moment listening to three thousand or so people singing ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’ to the tune of The White Stripes’ ‘Seven Nation Army’.
Next up were The Coral, who I was really looking forward to. Technically, I couldn’t fault their performance. They are obviously serious musicians who give their music a lot of attention. For me though, it fell a little flat. They gave some crowd pleasing moments with some of their biggest hits: ‘In the Morning’, ‘Goodbye’, ‘Pass it On’, ‘Dreaming of You’. But the rest of their set was a bit downbeat with a lot of intricate guitar solos and instrumental sections. Maybe I’m being a little harsh. The consensus amongst the people around me who had seen the band several times is that this is just the way they do it. Light on the crowd interaction, heavy on the serious business. It just wasn’t quite what I was expecting from what was, for them, a homecoming gig. They weren’t terrible, not by any stretch, but I was left feeling like I had appreciated some good musicianship rather than being totally immersed in what they were doing.
I was slightly more apprehensive about The Libertines. I’m a big fan of their music, but when I’ve seen snatches of their live performances before on TV they’ve seemed quite disorganised and chaotic. And I know that’s part of their charm, but whereas on record they’ve just about managed to hold it together, live they sometimes seem to fall apart. I sent a text home before they came on telling my partner they had three songs in which to impress me, otherwise I’d be home early. In reality, they did it in one. As soon as they came out and started playing I realised this was going to be something special. They started with a few tracks from their latest album – ‘Barbarians’ was in there, ‘Fame and Fortune’ and a couple of others. They were tight and focused. Lots of energy and presence. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but Pete Doherty looked cleaner and healthier than he has in a long time. He sounded great, they sounded great.
They still retained their air of unpredictability with some impromptu bits between songs. A snatch of ‘All Together Now’ in a nod to The Farm who had played the night before; a verse of ‘Girl’ by The Beatles, and a reprisal of ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’ / ‘Seven Nation Army’. But when playing their own songs they really went for it. Their drummer, the rhythm section generally in fact, were ferocious. It enabled Doherty and Carl Barat a bit of licence to do their staccato guitar thing over the top without derailing anything. There were a multitude of highlights. A particularly crowd pleasing rendition of ‘What Katie Did’ had people hugging each other and belting out the lyrics into the night sky. ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’ predictably whipped everyone up into a bit of a frenzy. Two of my favourite tracks are ‘Up the Bracket’ and ‘Time for Heroes’ – they played brilliant versions of both. Then there was a gorgeously controlled version of ‘You’re My Waterloo’ with Carl at the piano. And they finished with ‘Don’t Look Back into the Sun’ which sparked a spontaneous outbreak of euphoric dancing amongst everyone around me.
I think it’s fair to say they were brilliant. Everything just came together for them on the night and they delivered a fantastic show. For me, they’ve always been equal parts The Clash and The Beatles, that’s certainly how I’ve described them to people in the past. They transcended even that tonight. If only they had been able to ride the wave of their initial success back in the mid 2000s instead of the acrimonious breakup, they could have been huge. Then again, we wouldn’t have had ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’ which is one of the best pop songs written in recent memory. Maybe they’ll still get there, I certainly hope they do. On the strength of this showing, they deserve to.