Luke Haines is a man proud of his status as an outsider. His former outfit, The Auteurs, helped originate the genre that would later be known as Britpop, but the band are rarely, if ever, mentioned in the same breath as those that conquered the charts a few years later*. After The Auteurs went under, he tried his hand at a concept album centred around a 1970s West German terrorism group, and formed Black Box Recorder, infamous for charting single ‘Child Psychology’, with the chorus of “life is unfair, kill yourself and get over it”. This is a man seemingly very happy to take the path less trodden. The last few years have seen him pick up the pace somewhat. While his original contemporaries have created headlines with reunion tours and comeback albums (The Auteurs are a band who will never reform, regardless of interest of financial incentive), Mr Haines has been something of a creative maelstrom, with new albums on a near-annual basis. Songs from these records have been collected onto a recent box-set, ‘Luke Haines Is Alive And Well And Living In Buenos Aires’, provided the backbone of the night, along with readings from his two autobiographies, Bad Vibes and Post-Everything.
Supporting Haines is James Holt, a Bolton-based singer-songwriter who has been making his name known as an emerging talent, garnering praise from Brian Eno amongst others. The deceptively simple chords and melodies show James’ musical cues of pre-electric Bob Dylan, even moreso with the use of freewheeling stream-of-consciousness. When he pulls back the tempo, the soul really shines through his material, becoming a sound and feel not unlike Tom Verlaine. ‘Butterfly’ a slow, dreamlike ballad (released as a charity single and raising over £1,200 for the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital) and the existentially poignant ‘Come Out To Play’, show a musical and lyrical maturity far beyond his years. James Holt will definitely be one to watch in the coming months.
Luke Haines took to the stage promising “lots of old songs, I’ll save you the new stuff from this months’ album” and “a veritable carnival of what one man can do with two hands”. He has always had a reputation to be something of a venomous curmudgeon, but in actuality this masks an incredibly sharp wit and sense of comic timing, as Luke would at times go wildly off-tangent into anecdotes, including a mid-song stoppage to conduct an audience poll on their favourite member of The Monkees (Peter Tork being the clear winner with Davy Jones receiving but a solitary cheer and a murmur of disapproval over Micky Dolenz). The majority of Luke’s set was a selection from his solo works- finely crafted stories of World Of Sport, The Glitter Band (sans Gary) and brand-new bomber jackets, seemingly forever set in a glum mid-1970s, but from time to time he would dip further into his back catalogue, such as the aforementioned ‘Child Psychology’.
While primarily accompanied by an acoustic guitar, Luke also packed some extra instrumentation befitting his outsider status, namely a nun-shaped dog squeaker for percussion, and a kazoo, commenting “the kazoo is the real people’s instrument, not the ukulele. Ukuleles are for public schoolboys”, eliciting laughs from the crowd. More laughs were had when Haines set down the guitar for a book recital, a reading of a chapter from his first book Bad Vibes- going into beautifully eloquent detail of the time when The Auteurs performed on the pilot episode of TFI Friday (spoiler – Luke Haines does not like Chris Evans. Or Danny Baker. Or Ocean Colour Scene.) This wonderfully poetic yet brutally bitter piece made several references to IRA attacks, thankfully the Manchester audience laughed along with this as Luke had to stop and mention that the book was written “at a different time and place”, grinning all awhile. A mandatory audience participation song followed, which was simply the words “Lou Reed, Lou Reed” repeated ad infinitum, with an encore of stripped back Auteurs hits to end the show. This intimate performance showcased Luke Haines’ songwriting abilities, a portrait of a man happy and proud to take a different path than his contemporaries.
*- There are two ‘schools’, for lack of a better term, of Britpop. The original wave, which came as a natural evolution of mid-1980s indiepop, with many bands and bandmembers cutting their teeth around this time, including Mr. Haines. This grouping contained The Auteurs, Suede, Denim, pre-His N Hers Pulp, St. Etienne and Stereolab, all of whom came to fruition in around 1992. While commercial success was elusive (some did much better than others), these artists were critically adored at the time. The look and feel of these bands were a stark contrast to the Class Of 1995, who simply traced a straight line from the 1960s British Invasion straight up to present via first wave punk, with very few additional influences. Second-hand suits gave way to casual sportswear, introspective studies gave way to stadium singalongs. However, which type of song- or which artist- is intrinsically better is all down to personal opinion, but ultimately one of these things sold millions, the other did not- when was the last time you saw a room full of people bellowing along to ‘Lenny Valentino’? Exactly. My point here- buy a copy of Bad Vibes, give it a read. It’s excellent.
Words and photos by Liam Moody. Luke Haines performed at the Night & Day Café on 15th October 2017.
Fancy listening to some of the best artists performing across Manchester in the coming months? Listen below for our latest playlist previewing those in town for this month’s best shows!