Bring it on, Manchester

Stephen Pennell checks out the opposition at the Hare & Hounds.

Shotty Horroh,
Pagans SOH,
Blue Nation.
Hare and Hounds, Thursday 7th February.

Disclaimer: If any Shotty fans are reading this, welcome to Birmingham. Just so you know, me, my kids and the second city are the stars of this review – your boy may get the odd mention and a few lines at the end if he was any good. Sorted, here goes.

After years of dragging my kids out to watch my heroes, the tables turned when they told me they had eight tickets to see theirs. Shotty Horroh has few peers in the battle rap scene that my nippers love so much, and it is no surprise that he has graduated from that school of hard knocks and hard bars to become a fully-fledged Rock Star. I wasn’t that keen at first – Shotty’s a Manc for a (bad) start, and I would need to book time off work – but when I heard that Wolverhampton’s Citylightz were on the bill, I was in the gaffer’s office filling in a holiday form like I was claiming a cash prize.

I’d normally start by saying that Kirsty, Kurtis and Tyler met Dad in town, but given the subject of the review it seems appropriate to use our battle rap names. So, Loxy, Penance and Tydal met Old Father Grime at the 50 bus stop outside Selfridges.

The madness started earlier than usual as an incoherent, under-the-influence woman seemingly offered Tydal an unopened block of cheese as we boarded the Hare and Hounds express (the bus). After declining her offer with his usual impeccable manners – he’s a Grime clasher, not a gangster rapper – he sat down with the rest of us in the seats behind her.

We were laughing and joking about something completely unrelated, when cheese woman turned round and said “Keep laughing at me, see what happens”. Concerned about this thinly-veiled although not-particularly-terrifying threat towards me and my children, I asked her to expand on her concerns. She proceeded to complain that Tydal had refused her request to open her cheese. Realising his mistake, he obliged – luckily he was packing his zombie knife – (kidding), and Cheddar Barb had polished off the whole block before we’d travelled a mile, never mind eight. Drama, drama, what a palaver!

We alighted at the Hare to find Fungi out of Benefits Street at his usual pitch in the pub’s smoking area, and he gave me the look that he always does, a sort of enigmatic half-smile that says “Yes, it IS me”. I know Fungi, how could I forget? And no, I don’t want a Big Issue.

After getting my hand stamped by the doorman (Liam out of Brum indie wunderkind The Clause), we went in to check out the opening act, Blue Nation. They were having to do an acoustic set as their drummer got run over the night before – yes, really – but the way they were taking the micky out of him it doesn’t sound too serious.

The former trio, now a duo, were a bit modded-up in Paisley button-down shirts and asked the crowd to put our hands up if we thought they were an Oasis tribute act. Some wag shouted “Do Wonderwall!” and that kind of spoiled things for me because from then on the start of every tune they did sounded like the opening of Wonderwall. Even Champagne Supernova. (I’m joking).

I’m not sure if it’s a pro or a con, but when you go to this sort of gig, the presence of a lot of wannabe-rappers in the audience means the blazing area outside is often as entertaining as the gig. Full of MCs spitting bars and doing cyphers (standing round in a circle taking turns at rapping), not to mention the smell of green. It’s fun, but the drawback is you lose out on seeing some good support acts. I missed most of the Pagans S.O.H set due to this, but fortunately I did catch my favourite tune of theirs, Banananah, with which they closed their set. It’s a great song and they performed it brilliantly.

Then it was a back outside for a smoke, a slurp and another cypher. This time even Fungi joined in with the verbal parring and sparring – he really is a fun guy! Sorry kids – shame on your father.

I didn’t hang about outside for long as Shotty had brought the Manchester weather with him and the fantastic Citylightz were up next, tearing through a five-song white-knuckle-ride of a set. Opening with next single Proof, they finished with a pair of aces, anti-police anthem Piggy, and the story of the Black Country’s own Keyser Soze, Tim. Yeah, you read it right, a gangster called Tim, short for Timothy. I’d get an evil nickname if I were him.

Shotty and I nearly bumped into each other downstairs as his minder led him through a back way to the stage. “Sorry fella,” he said, and his good manners had already got him in my good books.

First impressions got even more favourable when he spent his first minute on stage singing Birmingham’s praises, before launching into opening number Shudehill. He followed this up with the excellent Danger, and I was a bit worried at this point as he’d started with the only two songs of his I knew. I needn’t have worried.

Following stand-alone single Dirty Old Town, he ripped through his debut album Salt Of The Earth and the quality never dipped. I’ll be buying that soon. He threw in an accomplished cover of the Arctic Monkeys’ Fake Tales of San Francisco, followed by Dynamite, which bangs, obvs, and also performed Especially You from his next album. If that is anything to go by, I’ll go buy that one too. Have I got bars or what?

The between-song banter was top quality, and at one point he asked if there were any Villa fans in the audience (big cheer), then Blues (smaller cheer and some embarrassed shuffling). Although I shouted my head off at my cue, I couldn’t help but worry as the last time I heard the crowd being split along those lines was by the DJ in Rumours social club in Chelmsley Wood, and it led to a near-riot and about fifteen life bans.

Shotty is backed by a powerful, all-Canadian band – lead and rhythm guitars, bass and drums – and they bring his recorded music stunningly to life. The man himself is a fantastic front-man, oozing the swagger of Liam Gallagher if he drank in The Jockey, singing lyrics Alex Turner would be proud of, and pinging around the stage with the energy of The Libertines before Pete Doherty went off the rails.

He finished with a triptych (look it up Brexiteers) of great songs – Wish You Well, Lanyards, and Stay For The Ride – before telling us we were the best audience of the tour and immediately joining his fans for complicated handshakes, hugs and selfies. I can’t believe I doubted him. He said he’d been dying to come to 0121 and tear the roof off – he delivered and I hope he does again.

I can’t thank Tydal enough for sorting my ticket and Loxy and Penance for their wonderful company. I was on cloud nine all day the next day with Danger like a 24-hour virus in my ears, until I came down to earth with a bump on Friday night.