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Middle Aged Gigging: Embrace at Sheffield 02 Academy

I feel like we go a long way back, us Crosbys and Embrace. This was a band that we began to follow in the early years of our relationship in the late 90s. A band that we quickly fell in love with, a band that we even invited to our wedding some years later and a band that we’ve pretty much grown into almost fully formed adults with. So it felt fitting that having last saw them just days before lockdown, Embrace were the first band we would see now that times are relatively normal again.

With a busy family life and demanding jobs, it’s safe to say that we don’t get out a great deal these days, so this Embrace gig had us giddy with excitement. However, the realisation of the timing was pretty awful. Taking place as it did on Sunday 4th September, this one represented a late night out when, as a teacher, I started back at work the next day after 6 weeks off! So, in the back of my mind that excitement was being chipped away at, just a little bit, by a feeling of dread!

We got there relatively early and to my initial horror were able to walk almost right to the front of the venue, standing right behind those clinging to the barrier. I’ve never been a fan of being ‘down the front’ at gigs, but bizarrely, as we’ve got older we just seem to have gravitated forward! Not a single note of music had been played and I was already worrying about getting barged all over the place. On the plus side though, this was going to be a great view.

Support on the night was provided by Ellur, a solo artist who is actually the daughter of Embrace guitarist Richard McNamara. She wasn’t meant to be supporting but a last minute change meant that she was drafted in at late notice. Dad Richard joined her onstage alongside a drummer and keyboard player and together they played a blinder! I’ve heard comparisons between Ellur and Adele, but for me the sound was more reminiscent of First Aid Kit, with a bit of an 80s influence in there somewhere too. I want to say that I could hear the influence of bands like Heart and Wilson Phillips too…but I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing or not!

Influences didn’t matter though, as the songs were great and despite the last minute filling in nature of it all, the set was excellent. You wouldn’t have guessed that she’d got the call so late! Ellur herself had a brilliant stage presence and a confidence that, all in all made for a really enjoyable performance.

We then had a feverishly paced change over – notable for the fact that the young lass playing drums for Ellur was pretty much just left to dismantle her entire drum kit on her own, making this middle aged dad feel quietly outraged on her behalf! – before the familiar strain of ‘Down To The River To Pray’ could be heard over the PA. It was time for Embrace.

Having seen countless Embrace gigs before, I shouldn’t get quite as giddy as I do when they take to the stage. However, I have a feeling that all Embrace fans get the same way and that we all experience the same thing at this point in a gig. Without getting too soppy, watching this particular group of blokes come out onto a stage always makes me smile and laugh. I know that I’m in for a thoroughly joyous experience…and what kind of person would I be if that didn’t make me feel good?

The set opens with a couple of songs from the new album, ‘How to be a Person like Other People’ in ‘Death is Not The End’ and ‘We Are It’, which go down really well and it’s noticeable how many of the crowd know the lyrics, despite the fact that the album had only been out around a week. It’s is a noticeable gear change of an opening. Maybe it’s all in my head, but it feels like Embrace have opened with ‘Ashes’ for as long as I can remember, so I’m used to having the adrenaline levels turned up a notch really quickly and as someone who struggles with the lyrics to even my favourite songs, not being able to sing along myself doesn’t really help! Still though, the news songs hit the spot and at least without ‘Ashes’ my knees are still intact!

In between songs Danny mentions that it’s a Sunday and that we’ll be trying to make it feel like a Saturday. He knows that it’s back to school tomorrow and gives a nod to us teachers, telling us that we can tell our employers to f*** off tomorrow and that we’re not coming in. I take it that he’s talking to me personally, but still find myself heading into work next day, when I’ve calmed back down! Maybe next time he can write me a note?

The next two songs though are what the youth of today – and maybe people experiencing some kind of mid life crisis – might refer to as ‘bangers’. It’s fair to say that ‘Come Back to What You know’ and ‘My Weakness is None of Your Business’ are Embrace anthems and when they’re played at a gig you can be sure that most of the crowd are singing along. Tonight is no exception and at this point the excitement and adrenaline of the gig is taken up a notch again.

What follows is a gig that could well be viewed as life affirming, if I hadn’t seen the same type of thing from Embrace so many times before. It’s still life affirming though! With the new songs more than holding their own alongside a selection of bona fide classics, it all adds up to one hell of a night out. The bond between the band and their fans is always obvious and this always ensures that there’s a huge positivity around the room. All around me people are smiling and singing, hands in the air, now blissfully unaware that it’s Sunday and it’s most likely back to the grind tomorrow morning! I’ve even forgotten that I have Danny’s permission to take the day off tomorrow!

The only problem tonight is that there are songs that you’d love to hear missing from the set. But that’s no one’s fault. That’s just always going to be the case when a band has so many well loved songs. So tonight, we cherish the likes of ‘All You Good Good People’, ‘Fireworks’ and ‘Gravity’ (first dance at my wedding and always the track that’ll make me well up a bit!), while also missing the likes of ‘Refugees’ and ‘Save Me’, even though ‘Save Me’ is another knee killer probably for a lot of us!

Tonight ends with ‘The Good Will Out’ and thousands of happy souls singing and screaming along to a stream of ‘la la la las’ that I don’t think any of us, including the band, wants to end.

Tomorrow, it’s back to normality, back to working for a living and worrying about what feels like the million different things that are dragging the country down at the moment. Tonight though, we’ve been lifted out of our daily grind, made Sunday feel like Saturday and once again, just had an absolutely incredible time watching the band that we adore. Thank God for Embrace and their ability to lift our sprits and make us forget about the daily grind…even if they won’t write you a note to excuse your absence from it for just one more day!

Gig Review: Rich Hall at The Leadmill in Sheffield

Wednesday, middle of the week and two stupidly busy people have taken the bold decision to go out. Not just to go out, but to go out having made a 45 minute journey down the M1 to Sheffield in order to do so. And on a school night as well! They don’t get out much either and when they do they tend to aim for a weekend, so being out on a school night had better be worth it! Over to you, Rich Hall.

Walking towards The Leadmill I’ve got the familiar pre-gig nerves. I won’t be on stage or anything, but I always get a bit nervous around big groups of people. Gigs make me additionally nervous because, despite my vintage, I’m still really self conscious. What if I fall over in a rush of people? What if everyone thinks my t-shirt’s shit? Rational types of fears, you know?

I’d forgotten about the calming effect of certain places though and as we pass through the front doors of The Leadmill and head towards the turnstile and the ridiculously slim door that takes you through, it all disappears.

Even though I’m a long time fan of Rich Hall, I’ve never actually seen him live. No idea why, but it’s certainly not a deliberate choice. Just one of those things, I guess. I know I could list bands that I love that I’ve just not gotten round to seeing too. Tonight, I don’t quite know what to expect. I know that Rich will come on and do a stand up set for the first hour or so and I also know that after a short break he’ll be back on with his Hoedown band. And, as someone who would gladly roll out every stereotype in the book if I was asked about country music, here’s where a bit of a problem lies.

The country music side of things almost swung the vote as to whether or not we’d come tonight. We had the tickets, but had an awful lot on in terms of work and personal stuff and to be honest, the thought of sitting through an hour of country and western music, nearly had me sat in an armchair in defiance 45 minutes north of Sheffield. (That’s defiance as in an emotion. Defiance is not a place 45 minutes north of Sheffield).

I’m now so, so glad we decided to come out instead of staying home.

Rich being Rich he ambles on stage, having given himself a fairly downbeat intro. Just the sight of him boosts my mood! From this point on it’s all set at an dawdling kind of pace and sometimes in a rambling kind of direction. But it’s fantastic.

Rich tells jokes and tales about all manner of subject matter. From Donald Trump, to budgeting and health care, right the way through to various places and accents in England that he’s well aware of. He’s clearly done his homework too as he opens with some observations about Sheffield taken from reading the local paper, The Star. It’s fair to say that this goes down brilliantly and from the moment he sets foot on stage, he’s got the audience on his side.

There are tales about the perplexing differences between Americans and British people and our non-linear way of thinking as well as combine harvesters and how they link to how a Tory MP might have mistakenly looked at porn in the House of Commons. There’s also a fantastic story about Rich’s trip to Buckingham Palace. And if you didn’t know, he’s also unearthed an improbable link between Morgan Freeman and the American actress Ashley Judd. Everything here is laugh out loud funny and all of it smattered with a liberal helping of curses.

By the time Rich has done about twenty minutes of stand up I’m sold on the idea of the hoedown. I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? Maybe a 13 minute song about a dead pet, but I figure I can get through that.

There’s a fifteen minute break between Rich strolling off at the end of his stand up set and the Hoedown and then, on come the Hoedown band to start us off with a little bit of country riffing before Rich himself joins them.

I have to confess that Rich Hall’s Hoedown is a revelation to me. This is not a morose hour of dead pets and droughts (look, I was trying for some alliteration, alright? I have no idea if either of these things crops up in regular country an western). This is more comedy, but with a country twist. And it’s clever stuff too. Not only does Rich come up with a song about Sheffield, but there’s lots of audience participation where he’ll have a little chat with someone in the front row and then get a few things about their lives into a song, more or less on the spot.

Now, I’m not daft enough to realise that there’ll be song templates in use here, but I’m still left admiring the skills involved. And it’s still endlessly funny! Two sections stand out tonight and they both involve the audience. Firstly, there’s what we’ll call the Kieran Edge section where Rich asks a few questions of a lad in the front row – Kieran Edge, don’t you know – and then skillfully weaves him into the set, including a song that’s sort of about him and even a guest vocal slot for the man himself later on too. There’s also a section – and this has to have been off the cuff – where another bloke in the front row, named Sid, turns out to b a musician and is then invited to come up and play guitar for a song. And Sid does a cracking job, let me tell you, while Rich watches on from the side of stage clearly enjoying this twist, but slightly bemused all the same. I find myself tapping my foot, laughing along and ever-so-slightly wishing I too had a cowboy hat.

The evening ends with the interruption of a country song for a burst of Lynrd Skynrd and some gunfire courtesy of Kieran Edge again and some rednecks from the Hoedown Band’s brief tour of some southern states in America – you had to be there! It sums up the hilarity and sheer sense of good fun of the night though. Where else could you be included in a country song and then get asked to stand up and fire an imaginary pistol at the guitarist at a gig? Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Rich Hall’s Hoedown, coming to a venue – maybe – near you right up until September. I’d heartily recommend that you get out to see him as quick as you can!

As a post script to this review, I’d like to both show my support for The Leadmill and in my own small way, hopefully publicise their fight against closure. I’ve posted a link below that will tell you all about it as well as the relevant hashtag should you want to protest via social media.

From my own personal viewpoint The Leadmill and small venues like it simply cannot be allowed to close. They’re the thriving, beating heart of local entertainment and the places where many an act will find their feet, hone their craft and give some of the best performances that they’re ever going to give.

I live in Leeds, but me and my wife have been going to The Leadmill for years, seeing countless bands and comedians. I could bang on about the place for another few thousand words, but it’s easier just to tell you that it’s just a fantastic venue. There’s nothing flash about the place and it’s not some kind of enormodome where you might have the misfortune to squint from a distance at what you’re told is Ed Sheeran, having payed three figures for the privilege. The Leadmill is small and intimate, the people are welcoming and the atmosphere is always electric. Spit and sawdust spring to mind, but you’d never actually find any! From the turnstile to get in, the brilliant bar and of course the venue itself, it’s just perfect in it’s own special way. Everyone seems happy to be there.

On our most recent visit – the one you’ve read about above – we followed a couple of women down the street and into the venue. They were chatting about whether or not they were in the right attire for a comedy gig (I’m not sure what the right attire would be, unless you’re dressed like some kind of North Sea fisherman in order to save your clothes from the tears of laughter you’re exepcting) and as we got to the doors they came to the following conclusion.

“Aah, doesn’t matter really. Leadmill, innit?”

We don’t need a multitude of reasons to save The Leadmill. Let’s do it because… “Leadmill, innit?”


Please click the link below and sign the petition to save The Leadmill!

More middle-aged gigging! The Bluetones at Leeds Stylus.


Picture the scene. Tea time in an ordinary three bedroomed semi in suburban Leeds. The telly’s on. A family – mine – are sat around watching a bit of post football television.

“You’re not going out again? Really?”

“You’re always going out! It’s ridiculous. What about me?”

Now if you’re thinking that this is perhaps my middle aged reaction to my teenage daughter heading out on some shopping trip or hanging about with ‘the girls’, then you’d be wrong. Horribly wrong. This is in fact the kind of dialogue that my kids hurled my way on Saturday evening when, without warning – unless you count the many warnings that they simply didn’t listen to – me and my wife headed out to watch The Bluetones at Leeds Stylus.

The sense of outrage is palpable. The sheer horror undisguised. The grief is multiplied by the fact that it’s Uncle Richard babysitting and not fun loving, just out of his teens cousin, Martin. Thankfully though, it’s mostly put right by the simple fact that we’re having pizza for tea. This serves to calm the nerves and rationalise the fears of what might happen should your parents have the brass neck to go out for the second time this year, for a few hours. Kids eh? Possibly the simplest and most complex things ever to walk the face of planet Earth.

As I’ve documented in a previous blog, middle aged gigging is fraught with tension, pitfalls and problems. The first of these is brought to light fairly quickly this evening when we realise that we don’t know where the gig actually is. Well, we know where, but we don’t recognise the name of the venue. And this was never the case when we were young and cool. A Google search allays a few of our fears, but even when we’ve parked up, we don’t really know where we’re going. For a start it seems to be part of the student’s union and sadly, it’s been a long time since either of us were students.

And this brings into play another fear. Will there be actual students at our gig? Are we about to have to watch an entire gig from one of our favourite bands while simultaneously hiding in a corner trying to disguise the fact that we’re the oldest swingers in town. And by ‘swingers’ I mean people attending a gig, not people conducting illicit sexual relations with the partners of other middle aged folk. I mean, even the image of me naked, let alone other more out-of-shape-forty-and fifty-somethings is enough to prompt you, dear reader, to be sick in your mouth. So come on, pull yourselves together: stop picturing me naked and read on!

Thankfully, our first element of tension, is dissolved when after a relatively short walk I find memories of my PGCE at the University of Leeds come flooding back. I know – sort of – exactly where I am and before we know it we’re heading into the building and down the stairs towards the Stylus. We don’t have a ticket though and instead are relying on picking them up on the door, so there’s an anxious wait while the girl scans the list before finally finding our names and highlighting them. She stamps our hands and we’re in. However, here’s another potential crisis point if you’re a middle aged gig goer. How can you preserve the memory in the time honoured fashion if there’s no ticket? What do I put in a box of memories that’s destined for the loft? What do I frame with other tickets in order to attempt interesting artwork that the wife will not allow on our walls?

Overcoming this tiny existential crisis we go into the gig. It’s early and the crowd is sparse so we head to the front. Sort of. I’ve always been too polite at gigs. It’s got worse as I’ve got older. So now, in middle age, while I’ve got a bit bolder in moving forward I’m still unlikely to stand straight  in front of those people who’ve left a gap. Don’t get me wrong, it’s their fault if they’ve left a gap and someone’s inevitably going to stand there, but it most likely won’t be me. So we stand and ponder for a couple of minutes. My wife is a lot shorter than me – a clause that will undoubtedly get me into trouble – while retaining her status as an intellectual giant – a clause that might just get me out of jail – so she likes to be as far forward as possible. So we’re caught between two stools, so to speak.

I’ve been going to gigs with my wife for a very long time. It’s a wonderful thing. We like much of the same music and it helps us get on. I’ve noticed my wife has certain mystical powers that only come out at gig time, but I’ll only let you in on the one in case you’re ever at the same gig as me and we need to use her power’s for the greater good. She can levitate. Genuinely levitate. And as such, while I’m worrying about standing in front of a couple near the front, she levitates into the space, forcing me to follow. I’ve let slip that she does mind control as well now. But she’s levitated and I’ve not even noticed her moving, which in turn helps me overcome my middle aged gig politeness. We’re now just three people from the front of the stage. If this was someone like Take That I could reach out and touch Mark Owen’s testicles as he gyrated in front of me. But it’s not and I doubt Mark Morriss would enjoy such over familiar fandom. Anyway, we’re no longer between two stools. Just metaphorically within touching distance of Mark Owen’s scrotum. It’s been quite a journey in a very short space of time.

As a younger man I had a reasonably encyclopedic knowledge of music, especially with what was new at the time. So during what are referred to generally these days as ‘The Britpop Years’ I knew my stuff. And of course, this is where my love of The Bluetones came from. Nowadays however, my grasp of things has slipped. Having a career, a marriage, children etc; these commitments will get in the way of any kind of interests and my knowledge of bands has suffered. Hence tonight, even though I’ve read who they are, I still have no idea who the support band are. In fact, there are two support bands, but being middle aged these days, the temptations of having a proper tea and staying in the warmth for a little bit longer meant that we weren’t out in time to be queuing at the doors and being two of the 23 people who may have watched the first support.

We make it in time to catch the second support though, although due to middle aged hearing and a lack of annunciation on the singer’s part I couldn’t tell you what they’re called. However, I can furnish you with a few observations. Firstly, they sound and dress a bit like Joy Division. There are hints of The Fall in there too. Secondly, they swear quite a bit. ‘Fuck’ this and ‘fuck’ that and no doubt ‘fuck’ the other as well. Risqué. Thirdly, they’re quite brave. Why? Well they follow one song that has a chorus of ‘this in not a joke, not a fucking joke’ with another that asks ‘Can I speak to a manager please?’ If you think about it there’s a certain level of confidence there, right?

Once they’ve left the stage a glance at my watch tells me that we’ve got about 25 minutes until our heroes, The Bluetones arrive. They’re touring their album Science and Nature, released in 2000, which for fans is a bit of a classic. Not only that though, having played the album through in its entirety, the lads would be back with a second ‘Greatest Hits’ set afterwards. This is great in theory; a real treat. However, given my age, it actually throws up another middle age gigging problem. By the end of these two sets, while I may experience a certain euphoria, to misquote Khia, my legs, my back, my everything is going to hurt. It’s bad enough having to stand still for this long, but tapping a foot, raising the odd hand, arm, pair of hands to clap, actual dancing, well of this is going to take its toll. And that was never a worry when I was a younger gig goer. And this is before we even give a thought to what state we’ll be in the next day.

Age is a constant concern at gigs these days and as such I find myself turning around to check the rest of the audience. I scan both balconies – although their more like ledges in the Stylus – and have a good look at everyone behind me and I’m more than a bit pleased to see so much grey and white hair, as well as many a bald head. We’re all middle aged gigging together and as far as I can see there’s not a hipster student type in site!

There is one more slight problem of a middle aged nature, however. It’s cold out tonight and I’m feeling the cold a little bit more these days – another reason to revoke my Geordie membership as well, I know. So I’m wearing a jacket. It’s not quite sitting at the football with a tartan blanket round my knees, but I feel that it marks me out as old. It reminds me, once again, that middle age has well and truly hit, but there’s nothing else for it. The days of being cool are sadly long gone.With a two hour set ahead of me I’m going to get hot, but there’s no way that I’m tying my jacket round my waist. I can’t avoid feeling like a bit of a twat though. That said, I’m surrounded by middle-aged gig goers, so I can afford to relax a little bit and it wouldn’t be a surprise to find more jackets knocking about. As long as there are no gilets, eh?

Whatever my age, the pre-gig excitement remains the same. So as 9pm approaches, I’m watching the door at the side of the stage like a hawk. And when it opens a fraction, letting in a tiny bit of light, my heart leaps a little bit. Seconds later and our heroes are taking to the stage. Without checking I’d say it’s around 24 years, maybe more, since I first saw them live, but just the sight of The Bluetones walking onstage still makes me smile. In fact, as I get older and especially as a few years ago we attended their ‘farewell’ tour and I thought I’d lost this forever, I think it makes me smile a whole lot more. It’s widened a little bit more tonight as well as the lads are resplendent in white jeans and white lab coats – Science and Nature, you see?


The gig is an absolute triumph. Frontman Mark is on top form, regaling us with tale after tale of life in The Bluetones over the years. And the songs don’t sound bad either! First up it’s Science and Nature and we’re treated to a number of favourites. It’s an album I’ve always loved and the sound of opener Zorro immediately lifts my spirits a little bit more. Suddenly the self consciousness of the middle age gigger is gone. I don’t feel like a mature student or in fact a bloody English teacher and I’m shuffling from foot to foot in something that resembles at least a kind of rhythm.

We’re quickly in to ‘The Last of the Great Navigators’ and Mark is crooning the line about believing ‘there’s something good around the corner’ and do you know what, he’s never sounded more convincing. The beautiful ‘Tiger Lily’ is next before drummer Eds takes centre stage – kind of – with the ‘Ch-ch-ch-ch’ refrain from ‘Mudslide’. We’d been listening to this round the tea table before we came out and bizarrely none of the family can actually do it, apart from me. As I’m the bloke who always sings the wrong lyrics this is quite the achievement, believe me! As the song kicks in and I’m doing it – obviously – my wife turns around with a knowing smile. A knowing smile that says, ‘Yes, you can make a noise, but face facts love, when it comes to actual words you’re like a four-year-old.’ I don’t care and I’ll take any victory I can get, even if it is that I make noises better than anyone else.

Perhaps the last time I heard ‘Blood Bubble’ live was when we saw this album toured originally, although given my age and my memory, I could be wrong. But it’s sounding great tonight. I’m a sucker for an instrumental. And then we’re into the wonderful run of ‘Autophilia’ and ‘Keep The Home Fires Burning’. By now I may well be singing – loosely – at the top of my voice. This makes me a little self conscious as you don’t want to spoil anyone else’s night, but gig after gig after gig I can’t help it. I suppose after all these years these songs just mean a lot and I rationalise my brief worries with the thought that the band’s amps and mikes might just make them a bit louder than me anyway. If you’re reading this and thinking you were stood near me as I yelled along and it spoilt your night, I’m sorry. And I’ll extend my apologies for getting the words wrong so much as well. I was in my element though!

The set ends in frankly remarkable fashion, even if it was completely scheduled and not a surprise to many present who simply know the album. I’d like to think I speak for a lot of Bluetones fans though when I express my total and utter undying love for ‘Slackjaw’, the band’s humble, beautiful and wonderful ode to lost love. It’s a song I could listen to again and again and not ever tire of, with the added bonus that it’s short enough even for a perennial lyric loser like myself to remember all the way through! And with that in mind, if you’re reading this Mr. Morriss (either of you) I’m available for back up vocals on this one in the future.

A brilliant set is ended with the wonderful ‘Emily’s Pine’ and the band are off stage as quick as a flash. We’re into what Mark has referred to as an interval for the benefit of an ageing audience and he’s even given us permission to retire to the foyer to purchase drinks and locally sourced ice creams, but apart from a few middle age bladders being emptied, as you’d expect, we’re going nowhere. (And I hope you appreciate the lack of a ‘never’ in there to avoid using an awful pun, Bluetones fans).

Before there’s time for my joints to seize up the boys are back on stage and we have the second half of the show to look forward to. This time it’s a ‘Greatest Hits’ set and we’re treated to a few that aren’t always played, like ‘Freeze Dried Pop’ – revealed by Mark as a potential top 27 hit that never happened – and ‘Fast Boy’.


But it’s the old favourites that dominate and put the perfect glaze on tonight’s gig. ‘Bluetonic’, ‘Never Going Nowhere’ (with Mark chanelling The Eurythmics), ‘Solomon Bites The Worm’ and many more, as they say, are played to the delight of all in the crowd. We end with ‘If’ and a brilliant moment of Bluetones magic as Mark asks for the phone of the woman in front of us in order to film the whole thing for her. There are cameo appearances for the rest of the band including a lingering shot of Adam’s crotch before it’s handed back. Tomorrow, the video will ‘go viral’ as they say, albeit on a smallish, Bluetones sized scale and thousands will view it on Twitter. I will spend much of the day ruing the fact that it could have been me and thinking about the benefits it would have had for this blog! I gather myself, forget the blog – knowing my luck Mark wouldn’t have pressed ‘record’ anyway and look to the stage. After a well deserved bow The Bluetones are gone and it’s almost time to head home. But what a night!


We end the night with a visit to the merchandise stall to make some apt age-related purchases, including a tea towel and some fridge magnets. Never has gigging felt so middle aged and yet so bloody brilliant. I’m shattered, my feet hurt, my ears are ringing and I know that Sunday is already even more of a write-off than usual, but boy am I happy! The Bluetones are a band to be cherished and thankfully – and you promised, Mark – they’ll be back again in 2020. And there are new songs to look forward to as well. Can’t wait. The battle for renewed gig fitness starts now for this middle-aged gig goer!