Michael Halpin Journalism


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.


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The Stone Roses @ The Etihad Stadium – More Than Just Great Gigs

The Stone Roses at The Etihad Stadium – More Than Just Great Gigs


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


Crosby, Stills and Nash Live @ Bridgewater Hall, Manchester – Record Collector Magazine,



Crosby, Stills & Nash
Manchester Bridgewater Hall
21st September, 2015

View: stalls, centre-left

A homecoming gig for a humbled Nash set the tone for an evening filled with good vibes and warmth. A wonderful Marrakech Express saw the gap between band and audience quickly bridged, and hitting their stride during Long Time Gone, they followed with a mesmerising Cathedral and tender, heart-melting Our House. Before Déjà Vu, Crosby joked, “I’m the one who writes the weird shit!”, while Love The One You’re With, if exposing Stills’ vocal limitations, showcased his guitar virtuosity and that magical vocal blend.

Post-interval, Dylan’s Girl From The North Country led into two Nash solo numbers, the beautiful Myself At Last and Golden Days. A final flourish of Almost Cut My Hair and Wooden Ships instigated an ovation, before Teach Your Children and Suite: Judy Blue Eyes ended in charming fashion.


Record Collector Magazine: Live Review: Badly Drawn Boy, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester 31st July 2015

Badly Drawn Boy

Manchester, The Bridgewater Hall


View: The Gallery, centre
To say this was an emotional evening would be an understatement.   Playing The Hour Of Bewilderbeast in his hometown, Badly Drawn Boy (Damon Gough) was tearful from the outset.  As a small string section crept into The Shining, a tearful Gough barely made it to the end of the first verse before halting to composing himself.  As he rallied, Stone On The Water and This Song shone while Magic In The Air summed things up.

Family members danced in the aisles to Once Around The Block and Disillusion while friends   heckled humorously, Damon enjoying every moment.  The interval was followed by a greatest hits including All Possibilities, Something To Talk About and Silent Sigh, before the evening concluded with a wonderful a capella version of Bruce Springsteen's Thunder Road.