Nobody splits up while they’re still friends and at the top of their game. But The Maccabees did. Chris Catchpole joins the distraught throng at their farewell shows at Alexandra Palace to capture the moment.
Things get very emotional when Q joins the London quintet at their farewell shows in Alexandra Palace.
Quit while you’re ahead, goes the old adage. It’s good advice, no doubt, and particularly so for musicians on the wane, but who does it? The Jam and The Beatles were the biggest groups of their time when they split, but that’s about it. Or rather it was until The Maccabees announced last August that they were calling it a day after 14 years. “Why now?” cried their fans. Why split when they’d just cracked it? After all, it was only in 2015 that their fourth album, Marks To Prove It, had scored their first Number 1. They’d won an Ivor Novello and been nominated for a Mercury Prize. In July last year, they’d headlined their first festival, Latitude. Wasn’t this the point where all those years of graft and slog, of sleeping in transit vans and playing bottom of the bill to half-empty rooms finally paid off ? When the first of three farewell shows announced at London’s Alexandra Palace sold out in little over 15 minutes it was clear the bubble wasn’t about to burst. “When they told me I was, like, ‘Why would you do that? You’ve reached the pinnacle that most bands spend their entire careers trying to get to and you’re going to stop now?’” recalls Jim Chancellor, their label boss at Fiction. “I was sort of flummoxed, but then you think, ‘Well, maybe it’s exactly the right thing to do.’ Just because everyone else carries on doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. They said, ‘We’ve created this wonderful thing and we don’t want to spoil it.’” There were clues though, if you looked hard enough. Released in 2015, the film Elephant Days was a love letter to the band’s adopted South London base of Elephant And Castle. Detailing the rapidly changing nature of the neighbourhood, it was interspersed with footage of the protracted two-year period spent trying to make their fourth album. It might have produced the intensely democratic group’s best work, but from the footage of exasperating recording sessions it didn’t look like much fun. “I know they were finding it quite hard to make the records – harder and harder. Some bands thrive on that and some don’t,” reflects Chancellor. “[ Marks To Prove It] was a struggle for them. They wanted to go out as friends rather than fall out over making another record, I think. Another very righteous, honourable thing. It’s a bit like a prize fighter, he gets that one chance to knock the number one out and become the world champion and he does it and says, ‘I quit’. This feels like what a lot of bands should
It was joyous to be onstage with them
do – get to the point where you’re at the height of your powers and then go, ‘OK, we don’t want to sully that, we want to move on.’”
Thursday, 29 June
Following a small charity warm-up show and two nights at Manchester Apollo, the first wave of 10,000 fans descend upon Alexandra Palace, decimating the merchandise stand for any form of memento. Launching into an explosive Wall Of Arms, The Maccabees certainly don’t look or sound like a band who are running out of steam. Guitarist Felix White zig-zags around the stage, beaming at the crowd, clapping and singing along as if their number one fan had won a competition to be onstage for the whole gig. Frontman Orlando Weeks, normally a bashful onstage presence, waves his hands over the audience, conducting the sea of arms in the air and throws can-you-believe-it grins over his shoulder to his bandmates.
Four songs in, the first mention from the group that these will be their final shows is met with a collective cry of displeasure. “We’re not averse to a bit of booing,” smiles Weeks, “so if you want to boo, get it all out now.” It turns out they want to boo. “Now that’s done,” chips in White, “what we want to do is make this the most euphoric celebration ever.” It’s rare that a band actually give themselves and their fans an opportunity like this to say goodbye and thank you to one another and the level of love and teary-eyed devotion it’s brought out in the auditorium is startling. I first saw The Maccabees play the back room of a Brighton pub in 2004 and
This feels like what a lot of bands should do – get to the point where you’re at the height of your powers and then go, OK, we don’t want to sully that, we want to move on.’” Jim Chancellor, Fiction Records
“Don’t leave us!”: fans arrive to bid adieu and possibly shed a tear or two.
Attack of the killer ’Bees: (from left) Orlando Weeks, Hugo White and Rupert Jarvis, Alexandra Palace, 2017; ( far left) the band’s farewell setlist.