Michael Halpin Journalism


Record Collector Magazine: January 2017 – Paul Simon @ Manchester Apollo


Paul Simon
Manchester O2 Apollo
10th November, 2016

View: seated, centre

Before playing, the legendary 75-year-old was greeted with an ovation. Opening with The Boy In The Bubble, Simon’s vocals were low in the mix, and backing vocals from the nine musicians on-stage would’ve enhanced them. Heavy on solo material, the set moved along with Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover, before the first of several wonderful anecdotes. Enjoying himself, Simon’s renditions of Homeward Bound and America followed, before the hits, Mother And Child Reunion, You Can Call Me Al and Still Crazy After All These Years.
Simon concluded a second encore with The Boxer, before a final flourish of American Tune. Disappointing for casual fans, but diehards remain in awe.

Reviewed by Michael Halpin


Live Review: Louder Than War: James & The Charlatans. Echo Arena, Liverpool – 10th December 2016



James | The Charlatans

Echo Arena, Liverpool

10th December 2016

As two bands so strongly linked with the city of Manchester descended upon Liverpool’s Echo Arena, Louder Than War’s Michael Halpin went along to take it all in.

The Charlatans: Although some debate may have ensued regarding who should have been headlining this double header between James and The Charlatans, The Charlatans opening trio of songs argued a strong case to suggest that the running order was indeed incorrect.

‘Weirdo’ recalled just what The Charlatans do best – playing the underdog and coming out on top. ‘North Country Boy’ is such a crowd pleaser that it was never likely to fail while ‘Just When You’re Thinking Things Over’ grooved along defiantly giving the impression, for the moment at least, that the core of what makes The Charlatans great is still very much intact. Further to this, ‘Just When You’re Thinking Things Over’ was sung with such purpose by the seemingly ageless Tim Burgess, that despite nervous breakdowns, drug abuse, financial embezzlement, jail sentences and the untimely death of two key members, The Charlatans really do appear to be indestructible. Moving into ‘So Oh’ from last years ‘Modern Nature’ album lost the audiences attention however, while ‘Blackened Blue Eyes’ and ‘Let The Good Times Be Never Ending’ did not do enough to win them back, in spite of Tim Burgess’ efforts.

Like ‘North Country Boy’, ‘One To Another’ and ‘The Only One I Know’ were only ever going to gain a positive reaction and of the bands newer material, ‘Come Home Baby’, which followed, faired the strongest.

Following ‘Come Home Baby’, Tim Booth and Andy Diagram from James joined The Charlatans onstage. It was all big hugs, big grins and backslapping before Tim Burgess introduced the number they were about to perform as being “by four lads from Liverpool who shook the world”. One instantly knew that this was not going to be a Beatles cover, that would be too easy. Instead, the audience was treated to a version of Echo and The Bunnymen’s ‘Rescue’ which disappointingly seemed to be enjoyed far more by those on stage rather than the audience. As ‘Rescue’ briefly morphed into The Doors ‘L.A. Woman’, much was won back and at this point The Charlatans created the most musically powerful moment of their set. Typically concluding with their usually anthemic ‘Sproston Green’, this performance appeared to be slightly lethargic and it felt, to a degree, like the band were going through the motions. Closing your set with the same song for pretty much the last twenty-five years may well do that though.

One of The Charlatans strengths has always been their ability to win over an audience that has not been solely theirs, and despite such a promising start, that strength did not appear to be there this evening.

James: Aside from Tim Booth’s bizarrely oversized pants, the first thought when he opened his mouth at the Echo Arena was, ‘now there is a fella who can really sing!’ Contemporaries such as Tim Burgess, Ian Brown, Shaun Ryder or Tom Hingley have never come close to the vocal talent of Tim Booth and from the off it is clear that a) James have always been slightly different from other bands of their generation and b) there is absolutely no question whatsoever as to who should be headlining tonight’s gig.

Tim Booth’s vocals simply soared over the audience during ‘Waltzing Along’ and the immediate feeling is that watching an older and wiser James is a beautiful, uplifting and life-affirming experience.

Tim Booth’s zen-like demeanor contradicts his still wonderful dance moves, whilst he carries a grin that cannot help but give off genuine good vibes. When all of these factors are in place, James are pretty much untouchable as a live band.

Following ‘Waltzing Along’ and a superb ‘To My Surprise’, Tim Booth decided that the aptly named ‘Surfer’s Song’ was the ideal opportunity for him to indulge in a good old crowd surf. The strangest part of the whole thing was not that the fact that the 56-year-old can still carry off such a feat, but the fact that he can do it whilst still managing to sing perfectly in tune.

An extremely powerful ‘Ring The Bells’ showed that none of Tim Booth’s vocal prowess has left him. Just as they would time and again tonight, James showed how an exceptional pop/indie-rock band can make thousands of people feel like all is right with the world. Even if it is just for ninety minutes.
The subject matter of ‘Moving On’, addressing the death of Tim Booth’s mother in 2012, would appear to be far removed from making an audience feel like all is right with the world, but as he articulated his feeling that ‘death is like a birth and can be truly beautiful’ the sincerity of his delivery won his audience over. The fact that Booth’s band mates appeared to be keeping a watchful eye on him while he explained ‘Moving On’ only added further weight to the performance and even though he appeared to be communicating some very personal emotions to the audience, Booth appeared to be completely at one while doing so. He certainly seems to be a man comfortable in his own skin. A beautifully executed stripped down version of ‘She’s A Star’ followed, while ‘Johnny Yen’ from 1986’s ‘Stutter’ brought a tear to a fair few eyes.

‘Born Of Frustration’, without Tim Booth and Andy Diagram going walk-about within the audience would have been enough to lift the spirit of any crowd, but as Booth repeatedly cropped up over one side of the arena whilst Diagram the other, the audience (the majority of which were forty-plus) were sent into something of a frenzy.
‘Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)’ and the anthemic ‘Come Home’ both proved that Tim Booth still has the moves and as the clock ticked by, Booth showed nothing to suggest he was running out of the energy required to perform in the manner he does; his youthful exuberance seemingly years away from leaving him.

Like ‘She’s A Star’, a stripped back ‘Just Like Fred Astaire’ worked wonderfully and began James’ encore in fine style. Tim Burgess joined Booth and company for ‘Laid’ even though it was not one hundred percent clear whether or not he knew all of the words, before ‘Sometimes’ became one huge crowd sing-a-long.

Bravely, James ended their set with this years ‘Nothing But Love’ single and managed to pull it off majestically. The heart, soul, emotion, verve and vigour that James communicated tonight meant that in many ways ‘Nothing But Love’ was the perfect ending to a breathtaking set.

It is not at all overboard to say that the performance James gave tonight was not only a celebration of music but also a celebration of life itself.



Words by Michael Halpin. You can find more of Michael’s writing on Louder Than War at his author’s archive

Portrait shot of Tim Booth by Robin Linton, crowd shot by Tina



Record Collector: Live Review – PJ Harvey, Victoria Warehouse, Manchester – 3rd November 2016



PJ Harvey

Manchester Victoria Warehouse


View: standing, middle
PJ Harvey continued to surprise and intrigue in her own unique manner, as brilliantly eccentric as ever, taking the unsettling themes of the Hope Six Demolition Project and masterfully bringing them to life. Opener, Chain Of Keys, was preceded by Harvey’s two drummers playing military drum-rolls, while four songs from Let England Shake were aired in the shape of the title track, Words That Maketh Murder, The Glorious Land and Written On The Forehead.

Despite its haunting falsetto, To Talk To You was workman-like, but Dollar Dollar (with Terry Edwards’ free-form jazz sax solo) brought the magic back into the room. Likewise, The Wheel and The Ministry Of Social Affairs were astonishing, Down By The River gained a huge reaction, while the gothic River Anacostia saw all members of Harvey’s band hypnotically chant the chorus line.

The River and a cover of Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, in which PJ added her own chorus, formed the encore of a fearless artist defiantly treading her own musical path.

Michael Halpin


Live Review: Record Collector Magazine – December 2016 Issue – Primal Scream Live @ The Victoria Warehouse, Manchester



View: standing, stage-right
Straight out of the traps with Moving On Up, Bobby Gillespie was on fine form, though taped backing vocals were less impressive, and vocalist Hannah Marsden, appearing on Where The Light Gets In and Jailbird, offered more style than substance. Accelerator and Shoot Speed/Kill Light also left those not au fait with Primal Scream’s darker side dumbfounded, but none of it mattered as Gillespie and co moved into Screamadelica and the beautiful Damaged. The ease with which they jump from psychopathic krautrock to country-blues says everything about their eclectic nature.

A mesmeric Higher Than The Sun followed, before an extended Swastika Eyes. Loaded was predictably loved-up, while Country Girl drew a wonderfully goofy grin from Gillespie as a mass singalong erupted. Rocks closed the set before an euphoric encore in the form of Come Together.
Not vintage Primal Scream, maybe, but the Glaswegians remain as relevant and unpredictable as they’ve always been.
Reviewed by Michael Halpin




Louder Than War: Live Review – Sleaford Mods – Academy, Manchester – 27th October 2016

Sleaford Mods

Manchester, Academy

27th October 2016

Britain’s most articulate and outspoken band came to Manchester last Thursday as part of their UK tour. Louder Than War’s Michael Halpin was there to take it all in.

The evening began with a DJ presumably being employed to carry out the wonderful job of winding the audience up. Prior to Sleaford Mods taking to the stage the gathered throng were treated to a selection of cheesy disco “classics”. ‘It’s Raining Men’, ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’, ‘Love Isn’t Always On Time’, ‘The Theme From Friends’…you get the picture. Some members of the audience simply didn’t seem to get the point or appreciate the juxtaposition however. Surely these people didn’t have to be reminded of the purpose behind Sleaford Mods, did they? Sleaford Mods are here to drag us away from the soulless, saccharin cheesy-pop fest that was awful in the 1980s and is just as awful now. They are here to rant and vent against all that is false, against all that is fake. They sing about the state of modern Britain and the state of modern popular culture. Sadly some boys, as well as some girls, in the audience did appear to ‘Just Wanna Have Fun’. That’s fine but those boys and girls are missing the point when it comes to Sleaford Mods.

Fortunately, the majority of the audience tonight do get the point. The evening was a gathering of the sub-culture tribes, each with their own reason for being there. You could spot Indie, Mod, punk, hip-hop, dance…you name it, it was there. The audience was reminiscent of a Glastonbury audience prior to the era when going to Glastonbury simply became the thing to do.

Singer Jason Williamson greeted the Manchester audience with the cry, “You fuckin’ know don’t you?!” and it genuinely felt like they did. Sleaford Mods are that band. The band you can believe in. The important band. The band who actually have something to say. Williamson delivers every single lyric like his life depends on it. Like a man who really could be possessed and this is exactly what 2016 needs. We need another Ian Curtis, Iggy Pop, Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer. Williamson is more than just a simple amalgamation of those who many of us see as heroes of the working classes. His stage persona hints at Ian Dury, Norman Wisdom, Richard III and Quasimodo. We get Dalek impersonations, Metal Mickey impersonations and impersonations of the robots from the cult 1980s ‘Smash Makes Mash’ adverts. Add to that random sheep noises, genuine wit and the odd blown raspberry and you’re beginning to get the picture.

As Williamson ranted through ‘I Can Tell’, ‘Take It’, ‘Faces’ and ‘Fizzy’ as well as new numbers ‘BHS’ and ‘T.C.R.’, his musical partner in crime Andrew Fearn nodded and bobbed his head along to his no frills laptop and was admirable in his honestly – he was basically pressing play and pressing stop and didn’t care who knew it.


Williamson mocks the debacle of the encore in modern entertainment but managed to wind himself back up instantly to spit out ‘Jobseeker’, ‘Tied up In Nottz’ and ‘Tweet Tweet Tweet’.

Sleaford Mods are a million miles away from the top ten of the UK singles chart. They’re a million miles away from a Brit Award but they say more about the UK and Britain in 2016 than any other artist living in Britain today.

Sleaford Mods are on both Facebook and Twitter They can also be found at their website

Words by Michael Halpin. You can find more of Michael’s writing on Louder Than War at his author’s archive.

Photos by Melanie Smith. More work by Mel on Louder Than War can be found at her author’s archive. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter. Photography portfolio can be found here and Flickr



Louder Than War: Live Review – Daughter @ Manchester Academy – 24th October 2016




Academy, Manchester

24th October 2016

Louder Than War’s Michael Halpin watched Daughter live at the Academy in Manchester on Monday night. They are certainly masters of their craft.

Although Daughter’s laid-back, mesmeric style may not be to everyone’s taste, their intricate, well thought out music certainly lifted the boredom out of an autumnal Monday evening in Manchester. Their other-wordly musical creations taking the audience to an entirely different place. Clever lighting enhanced the reflective, introspective nature of Daughter who appear to be lovely people, humbled by the reactions they received from their Manchester audience. Granted they do not possess the fire or shot-in-the-arm that many say music needs right now but as escapism, Daughter definitely allow you to forget your surroundings.

Opening with ‘New Ways’ and ‘Numbers’ from this years ‘Not To Disappear’ album, Daughter received a warm reaction from their audience.

Singer Elena Torna’s vocals rode the wave of Igor Haefeli’s guitar lines beautifully and the additional musicians onstage served well in embellishing Daughter’s sound at the Academy. BBC 6 Music favourite ‘Alone/With You’ followed ‘Numbers’ before ‘How’ and ‘Tomorrow’ really set the mood.

Daughter’s debut album ‘If You Leave’ was represented well also. Numbers like ‘Winter’ and ‘Youth’ being greeted enthusiastically by the pleasant audience. ‘Mothers’ provided the most heart-felt and emotional moment of the evening with the lyrics being genuinely difficult to listen to on a level that strikes a chord instantly within the listener.

More than ever before there is room for the likes of Daughter in popular music. Fan favourites ‘Smother’ and Shallows’ gaining a reaction that reflected exactly this.

An enthusiastically received encore followed in the shape of ‘Medicine’ and ‘Fossa’ and those who care for what Daughter do appeared to go home both happy and content.



Live Review for Louder Than War: Jake Bugg: The O2 Apollo, Manchester – 19th October



Written by michaelhalpin

Manchester, O2 Apollo

19th October 2016

Louder Than War’s Michael Halpin was there…

The public persona of Jake Bugg as a morose, moody and grumpy individual, along with both his Snow Patrol assisted song writing, has left me in an unforgiving mood of late with all that surrounds the Nottingham musician. Throw into the mix the frankly awful ‘On My One’ single from earlier this year and its safe to say that my expectations were low regarding last nights gig.

Opening with the aforementioned ‘On My One’, the chav-tastic title and cringe-worthy opening line, “I’m just a poor boy, from Nottinghuuuummmmm” would leave Bugg’s folk-singing hero Woody Guthrie stone cold. Bugg’s execution of the offending line is almost beyond parody on record and was no better live. Couple with that the fact that his onstage persona vaguely resembled Bob Dylan’s in his ‘Don’t Look Back’ phase, only served to make the heart sink further. While Dylan looked sharp and contemporary in 1965, Bugg appeared casual at best in 2016. Is it ever acceptable for a musician to appear onstage looking so none descript? There was better dressed people at the bar last night!

Aside from the criticisms flanked at the 22-year-old, one aspect that cannot be denied is Jake Bugg’s guitar playing capabilities. On numerous occasions last night (particularly on ‘Strange Creatures’ and ‘Bitter Salt’) Bugg displayed both his fingerpicking talent and his flair for a guitar solo. The latter being an aspect of his arsenal that reveals itself far too little on record. To give him his due, the boy can sing as well. He belted out “his” numbers with a compelling force and what he lacks in visible vitriol, he more than makes up for in his ability to connect with the whole audience through his vocals.

In a set-list lasting just under ninety minutes, Bugg managed to rattle through an impressive twenty-one songs. ‘Two Fingers’, ‘Seen It All’ and ‘Messed Up Kids’ appearing to be almost effortless.

‘Love, Hope and Misery’ is an astonishing song and begs the question, ‘Could this have been a genuinely big commercial radio hit in the right hands?’ while ‘Never Wanna Dance’ could seriously have been written for Marvin Gaye to perform.

‘Trouble Town’, ‘Put Out The Fire’ and ‘Taste It’ were executed perfectly before the most tender and beautiful moment of the evening occurred during ‘Broken’. Again, one has to concede that as a singer and guitar player Jake Bugg is an extremely talented young man.

Closing with ‘Lightning Bolt’ the audience went home happy and did not seem to care whether or not the songs sung tonight were solely written by the person who performed them. The fact that it has taken Jake Bugg until his third album to manage write all of his songs himself will still leave some of us with mixed feelings about “his” music. Yes, he can sing and he can certainly play, but regarding every other aspect of him as an artist the jury is definitely still out.

Words by Michael Halpin. You can find more of Michael’s writing on Louder Than War at his author’s archive.





Black Grape: The Victoria Warehouse, Manchester – Live Review for Louder Than War


Black Grape: The Victoria Warehouse, Manchester – Live Review



Black Grape

The Victoria Warehouse


24th September 2016

Manchester’s Victoria Warehouse saw the first Brit Project take place over the weekend with a mix of legendary artists and breakthrough bands sharing two stages in one of Manchester’s most intriguing venues.  Louder Than War’s Michael Halpin was there to tell us all about it. Photos by Paul Husband

The likes of Primal Scream, Black Grape, Badly Drawn Boy and Dodgy lined-up alongside The Watchmakers, Glass Caves, Feed The Kid and Sitting Pretty for this unique live music event.

Of the unsigned acts, The Watchmakers held their own most self-assuredly alongside the likes of Reverend and The Makers and Dodgy, the latter churning out their back catalogue of crowd pleasing hits.

Manchester’s own Badly Drawn Boy (AKA Damon Gough) followed Dodgy onstage, cutting a lone figure – just one man and his guitar.  The charismatic individual that he is however managed to charm the audience throughout his set. ‘Everybody’s Stalking’, ‘The Shining’, ‘Disillusion’ and ‘Once Around The Block’ sounded delightful when stripped down to their bare bones, as did a medley of ‘People Get Ready/Sexual Healing and Mohammed Ali’ before Gough closed his set with a beautiful cover of Black’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’.

Headliners Primal Scream played a greatest-hits-heavy set which included ‘Moving On Up’, ‘Loaded’, ‘Come Together’, ‘Higher Than The Sun’, ‘Rocks’ and ‘Country Girl’ but numbers from their questionable new album ‘Chaosmosis’ meant that this was not vintage Primal Scream and the evening was stolen by the recently reformed Black Grape.

Opening with their 1995 top ten hit ‘In The Name Of The Father’, Black Grape brought the Victoria Warehouse to life and the band, albeit not the original members, sounded far better than they ever did in the 90s.  There were grins aplenty onstage and Shaun Ryder appeared to be genuinely enjoying himself.  Possibly, for the first time in years.

‘Tramazi Parti’ followed ‘In The Name Of The Father’ and it was almost too difficult to think about writing a review when all I really wanted to do was throw a few Bez shapes like I did in the days when I was a touch more agile!

‘Reverend Black Grape’ appeared too early in the set but was as rabble-rousing in 2016 as it was over twenty years ago.  Ryder kicked into an impromptu ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ style “woo-woo” but the real excitement came from Kermit who certainly seems to have a good set of vocal pipes on him.  Again, far better than what can be recalled from the mid-90s.

The groove on ‘A Big Day In The North’ and  ‘Shake Well Before Opening’ was immense and the 2016 version of Black Grape is a water tight, groovy-as-fuck band who sailed through tonight’s set with the confidence of a well oiled machine.

That confidence spilled into ‘Kelly’s Heroes’ as it slipped into ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll’ briefly before an extended ‘Little Bob’ ended the set triumphantly.

Primal Scream may have been the headliners tonight but the evening definitely belonged to Black Grape.





Words by Michael Halpin.  You can find more of Michael’s writing on Louder Than War at his author’s archive.  He can also be found at http://www.michaelhalpinjournalism.co.uk

Photos by Paul Husband. He also tweets as @paul__husband.


The Author

Words by

Share and comment


Live Review: Echo and The Bunnymen @ The Ritz, Manchester for Louder Than War



Echo and The Bunnymen: The Ritz, Manchester – live review

Echo and Bunnymen

Manchester, The Ritz

1st September 2016

Although it is a cliché to focus on age and appearance in an era when our musical heroes from days passed continuously reform and re-emerge, Echo and The Bunnymen’s two original members, Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant, certainly look better behind a cloud of dry ice and moody lighting in 2016. Unlike others of their ilk however, The Bunnymen’s aesthetic seems to carry purpose, and their visual and musical darkness created genuine escapism on a Thursday evening in Manchester.  This alone is testament to the integrity of their back catalogue as Michael Halpin found out.

A definite yin and yang surrounds Echo and The Bunnymen and this is part of tonight’s appeal. While the higher register of McCulloch’s vocals can take the audience onto an entirely higher plane, his Scouse drawl at the beginning of the evening brings proceedings right back down to earth, “alright Manchester ” couldn’t sound any less otherworldly if it tried.

Following an epic ‘All That Jazz’, McCulloch, surely one of British music’s most distinctive front men, announces, “I’m feeling shite tonight” and again we get the kind of contrast that the Bunnymen have always managed to charm with.

Will Sergeant’s guitar sounds positively violent during a psychotic ‘Do It Clean’ which briefly morphs into James Browns ‘Sex Machine’ and his 12-string guitar work on ‘Seven Seas’ proves to be as beautiful as expected.

‘Bring On The Dancing Horses’ is followed by McCulloch dryly announcing, “We played Oxford the other night…thick as pig shit there!” before the inevitable ‘Killing Moon’ naturally brings the house down.

McCulloch’s voice struggles during a slightly too urgent ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ but we do get a few improvised bars of ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ which softens the blow slightly.

‘The Cutter’ is remarkable during the first of two encores and that uncanny knack of being otherworldly in their music, whilst being completely down to earth in their persona, is complete.



You can find Echo & The Bunnymen online here. They also are on Facebook.

All words Michael Halpin. More writing by Michael on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.


Record Collector Magazine: Donovan Live – Royal Northern College of Music 18th October 2015



View: stalls, centre-right

Alone, cross-legged and shoeless, Donovan was surrounded by goodwill as he plucked his way through Catch The Wind and Colours. Going on to delight those at his 50th anniversary show, he was never more than three songs from a hit. Jennifer Juniper, There Is A Mountain, Hurdy Gurdy Man and a wonderful rendition of Buffy Saint-Marie’s Universal Soldier abundantly displayed his folk guitar skills.

The real gems, however, came in the form of Josie, Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness) and an endless supply of 60s stories, ranging from the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to Billy Fury. Happiness Runs preceded closing numbers, Sunshine Superman and Mellow Yellow. The aforementioned aptly summed up the slightly eccentric, charming Scotsman, who left everyone grinning ear-to-ear.

Reviewed by Michael Halpin