The Charlatans and Johnny Marr – Live Review – The Piece Hall, Halifax
By Steve Crabtree, August 2023
Well, it’s been a top, top summer here in the ‘Fax. Since the end of June, our town has seen musical legends from all over the globe transcend on to the stage in a venue many of whom didn’t realise existed. But they left knowing that they’d played in a very special place, with a desire to return there someday.
The curtain came down on the 2023 Live At The Piece Hall season last weekend, and for the last time music fans from all corners of the country (and possibly the world) flocked to Halifax for a night that promised to be nothing short of incredible. And this time, performing for us were a few lads who are a direct 40 minute train ride away. A double header, with icon Johnny Marr and indie-sensations The Charlatans.
Were we about to be spoiled again like we have been for the last few years? Damn right we were.
“Sprinkle of the glory days”
My friends and I didn’t manage to get in to see any of support act Wax-Tree-Cast, but we were there in time for Johnny Marr, that timeless legend from The Smiths who kicked the evening off for us at 7:30 pm. He oozed all that coolness he brings with him, as he sauntered on to stage to a Halifax hero’s welcome. Marr, with his signature guitar slung across his shoulder, wasted no time firing into an electrifying rendition of ‘Armatopia.’ It was clear from the first notes that we were going to be in for a treat.
He handed us a setlist that resembled a journey through Mancunian music history, with Marr effortlessly weaving his way through a full mix of nostalgic hits and modern creations. Tunes included ‘Panic’ (in which Halifax got a mention) and the timeless ‘This Charming Man,’ as we were given a lovely, generous sprinkle of the glory days of The Smiths. However, for me it was Marr’s solo compositions that showcased his prowess tonight. Tracks like ‘Hi Hello’ and ‘Easy Money’ brought a modern edge to the performance, proving that Marr’s musical genius is as vibrant as ever.
As the 75 minute set progressed, the energy around the place soared. The iconic ‘How Soon Is Now?’ was brilliant, with Marr’s legendary guitar work fully on show for all to see.
The culmination of the set arrived with ‘There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.’ Marr’s soulful rendition tugged at heartstrings, and as the final notes echoed through The Piece Hall, there was an undeniable sense that the audience were involved in something memorable.
“Johnny, Johnny, Johnny fuc*ing Marr” came the cries from the crowd. We were wrapped up in him. So much so, that the short break between him and The Charlatans coming on made sure the toilet queues were rammed. As was the bar. Best to hurry up and get The Charlatans on. Get people back where they were supposed to be – watching incredible music.
When the clock struck 9.15pm, it was The Charlatans turn to get the cheers of devotion from us, and they introduced themselves by launching into the crunchy ‘With No Shoes’. The Charlatans’ music has always been a journey through eclectic soundscapes, and this performance was no different. ‘Can’t Get Out Of Bed’ followed, and the feeling for the rest of the night was being carved out. Baggy sounding Madchester music, at its absolute finest.
Hits like ‘The Only One I Know’ and ‘One to Another’ were highlights of the set list. Many of the tunes had the crowd on a bit of a high. We tried our hardest to lend our voices to Burgess’ vocal in an attempt to harmonise. And, at the time, we sounded ok… I think! There was this infectious delight at all these tunes coming at us from the massive Piece Hall stage, and The Charlatans seemed to revel in the adoration of the crowd. Their music a testament to their enduring relevance in the music industry.
“Music that didn’t come with a best-before date”
With a frontman as noticeable as Tim Burgess, it’s easy to forget there’s a talented bunch of guys alongside him making those tunes sound as good as they do. The Charlatans have been with us for 35 years and, ok – they technically originated in the West Midlands, but they were part and parcel of a Madchester scene that produced music that didn’t come with a best before date. And the proof of that was in the pudding, as they wheeled out ‘Weirdo’, ‘North Country Boy and ‘Impossible’ as part of a 13-song main set.
It was a set that whizzed by in no time at all.
The evening held its own share of surprises too. Johnny Marr joined The Charlatans during their encore, giving Halifax a sweet collaborative performance of ‘Plastic Machinery’ and ‘Sproston Green’. But that wasn’t the best bit…
“A disco song from Manchester”
Earlier in the night, Burgess joined Marr for the penultimate song of his set, which was an absolute treat. Introduced by Marr as a “disco song from Manchester”, ‘Getting Away With It’ lifted the people of Halifax even higher.
If you were lucky enough to experience Manchester music in its pomp, you’ll know that the experimental nature of this song from Marr and Bernard Sumner fusing rock and smoothly textured synth grabs you. There’s something incredibly special in that song, and when you hear it, it chips away at you for days. Anyway – to me, when Marr and Burgess performed it to us lot, it was special. It gave me, by far, the greatest musical moment of the Live At The Piece Hall season this year.
Everyone was singing. Everyone was clapping. And everyone was raising a (plastic) glass. It was like we were having a unifying moment, and you could have let that tune go on for hours.
Halifax’s love affair with Manchester’s music scene was on full display and the place was a cauldron of generations, all connected by their shared love for music that has stood the test of time. Johnny Marr and The Charlatans created an atmosphere that was both electrifying and intimate. And it reminded everyone present that music is powerful.
As the final notes reverberated through The Piece Hall, it was clear Johnny Marr and The Charlatans had made their mark on of those of us fortunate enough to witness it. The synergy between these two musical powerhouses was the perfect finale, and brought the curtain down on 2023’s live season superbly. Two amazing acts. Two amazing sets.
And, 5,500 people heading off in to the surrounding areas of Halifax with tinge of sadness that we’ve got a year to wait before we can go through all this again. But also with a buzz, and with memories that’ll last for a long time.
We’ve been lucky in Halifax. I’ve mentioned before that when it’s gig night, the vibe in the town is something special. The feeling in the food spots and the bars is something else, and I’ve been saying that The Piece Hall is the best music venue in the country for the last three years. And now the BBC have cottoned on to that fact too.
Nicky Chance-Thompson, Cuffe and Taylor, Piece Hall staff and, personally, Rhodes Media – if you’re reading, thank you for this summer. You’ve brought a plethora of major players across pretty much every musical genre to our town. And people have shown that, when British summer starves us of the sunshine, they’ll brave the wind, rain, thunder and lightning to watch the acts that come to Halifax.
Madness. James. Embrace. The Jacksons. Sting. Queens Of The Stone Age. And 17 others. Wow. We love to be here, and we can’t get enough of this place. And those acts who you book are simply blown away by a venue steeped in character, history, vibrancy and intimacy.
Signing off, and with the above in mind, here’s one thing to think about. We could definitely run with four to six months worth of live shows in the not too distant future. Couldn’t we…?
Images: Cuffe & Taylor/The Piece Hall