COUR­TEEN­ERS

Q (UK) - - Contents - PHO­TO­GRAPHS: MICHAEL CLE­MENT

To mark the 10th birth­day of their de­but al­bum, St. Jude, “the nor­mal Manch­ester lads” give us a pub-rich tour around the city land­marks that in­spired their open­ing salvo.

The story of Cour­teen­ers’ 2008 de­but al­bum is the tri­umph of the un­der­dog – four “nor­mal Manch­ester lads” who wrote songs about be­ing young, dumb and full of in­se­cu­rity. No­body ex­pected it to pro­pel them to­wards sta­di­ums. But it did. To cel­e­brate its 10th an­niver­sary, the band take Niall Do­herty on a tour of the city land­marks that in­formed it.

Cour­teen­ers might be the most suc­cess­ful band to emerge from Manch­ester since the turn of the cen­tury, but Liam Fray has al­ways felt like they were out­siders in their home­town. When they formed as a four-piece in 2006, the front­man sensed an el­e­ment of snooti­ness about their win­ning in­die an­thems, a feel­ing that be­cause they were “nor­mal lads” their peers thought some­thing spe­cial was be­yond them. Fray is an easy-go­ing sort, and he was friends with the art-school crew who sneered at his mu­si­cal ef­forts. He says it helped him and his band­mates – gui­tarist Daniel “Co­nan” Moores, drum­mer Michael Campbell and since-de­parted bassist Mark Cu­pello – to get their heads down while the cool kids stroked their chins in the corner. “They were all ask­ing for guestlist when we played the cricket ground,” laughs Fray now. “‘Yeah, go on, you can come in, we don’t hold grudges…’” The singer is sat in the Night & Day Café on a grey Manch­ester af­ter­noon. He’s a charm­ing chat­ter­box with an in­fec­tious bounce to him, even though he’s feel­ing a bit hung over. It’s the day af­ter Mother’s Day, and Fray used the oc­ca­sion to work his way through

more bot­tles of cham­pagne than he can re­mem­ber. “I’m not sure what I was cel­e­brat­ing,” he says to his band­mates. Today, Fray, Campbell and Moores are go­ing to turn tour guide and take Q on a trip of the lo­cal haunts that fed into their 2008 de­but al­bum St. Jude. To cel­e­brate its 10th an­niver­sary, they have recorded a stripped-down, un­plugged ver­sion ti­tled St. Jude Re:Wired, and are play­ing two spe­cial shows in Lon­don and Manch­ester to mark the oc­ca­sion. The trio have barely bro­ken stride since St. Jude’s re­lease. There have been a fur­ther four al­bums and a se­ries of huge live shows that have made Cour­teen­ers (they lost the “The” in 2012) one of the UK’s big­gest bands. Re­vis­it­ing their de­but has of­fered a chance to look back and in­dulge in some un­char­ac­ter­is­tic self-con­grat­u­la­tion. “Ev­ery­thing from day one was against us. I’m proud of what we’ve done,” says Fray. “We’re mates from north Manch­ester who weren’t sup­posed to do this. We saw the Roses do it, The Smiths, Oa­sis… We thought, ‘They’re from where we’re from, maybe we could do it.’ I’m not align­ing us with those,” he says, adding a whis­pered, “I am.” They swap their pot of tea for three pints of Guinness. Roll up, roll up for the Manch­ester tour…

1. Night & Day Café

This venue-bar on Old­ham Street holds warm mem­o­ries for the trio. A friend worked here and would give them sought-af­ter sup­port slots with what Fray calls the “in­die dar­lings” of the day. One such set was with Brighton duo Blood Red Shoes, who pulled out at the last minute. “We just thought they were gonna can­cel the gig,” says Fray. “As we left sound­check, it said, “Blood Red Shoes £ 7”, and they’d rubbed it out and it said, “The Cour­teen­ers £ 7”. I was like, “You can’t charge that for us! No one’s gonna come!” The band went off for a nerve-set­tling drink and Fray will never for­get the feel­ing of re­turn­ing to the venue and see­ing a queue of peo­ple wait­ing to get in. “It was ab­so­lute

“We’ve al­ways had a good work ethic.”

adren­a­line,” he says. “Cos it was like, ‘They know we’re play­ing here tonight and they’re still there.’ It was a bit of a mo­ment that gig.” Many of the crowd al­ready knew the words to the songs be­cause of a be­spoke de­liv­ery ser­vice they’d de­vised. “We’d re­hearse in Liam’s garage, record the songs onto tape and give them out in the clubs we went to,” says Campbell. The pun­ters would leave with their pock­ets stuffed with cas­settes, Fray thrust­ing them into the hands of every­one he met. “I was like, ‘Th­ese tapes are bril­liant, mate, get on th­ese songs!’ And them songs went on St. Jude. They didn’t change much ei­ther!” As well as be­ing the scene of some tri­umphant early gigs, they’d also re­hearse in its base­ment. “It’s a bit of a dun­geon,” says Moores. Wasn’t re­hears­ing be­neath your favourite bar a dan­ger­ous strat­egy? “Ex­actly!” says Fray. “We were re­ally good with that, though. We’ve al­ways had a good work ethic. Even when we were start­ing out, we’d fin­ish work, meet in Revo­lu­tion, have a pint, then go to re­hearsal. The thought of that now. There’s no way we’d go for one pint.” He fin­ishes his Guinness, sticks his coat on and leads us to our sec­ond lo­ca­tion.

2. Fred Perry Shop

We head west across the city, past Pic­cadilly Gar­dens and across the tram­lines. Fray worked at the Fred Perry shop on Po­lice Street, be­hind Deans­gate, from 2004 un­til 2007, re­ceiv­ing his fi­nal pay­check on the same day the band were signed. He was full-time for his last year here, proudly ex­plain­ing how he was the youngest ever key­holder. “It was brave on their be­half,” he says. “The first per­son I em­ployed

“The first per­son I em­ployed was my sis­ter.”

was my sis­ter. I was like, ‘I need a Satur­day girl!’” The rea­son the shop is em­bed­ded in Cour­teen­ers’ folk­lore isn’t be­cause the band robbed the re­tail in­dus­try of a prodi­gious hot­shot but be­cause it’s within th­ese walls that Fray be­gan writ­ing the songs that made up St. Jude. “On th­ese steps here, they used to have a gui­tar and I’d sit here and write,” he says, point­ing to some stairs in the corner of the shop. He still has the Fred Perry com­pli­ments slip on which he wrote the lyrics to their in­tox­i­cat­ing de­but sin­gle Ca­vort­ing. His old boss, a gre­gar­i­ous chap named Jamie, sur­faces from the base­ment. “I was al­ways telling him off,” says Jamie. “For not pulling me weight?” en­quires Fray. “Never not pulling your weight,” he replies. “Just a bit of five min­utes late here and there…” How long were you here be­fore you felt com­fort­able enough to take a seat on the stairs and start strum­ming away? “Quite a bit,” says Fray. “About eight min­utes,” in­ter­jects Jamie. It was work­ing on the shop floor where Fray was in­tro­duced to colour­ful char­ac­ters from Manch­ester’s mu­sic scene. “I loved how many peo­ple who weren’t at uni or didn’t have con­ven­tional jobs would come into the shop,” he says. He’d get talk­ing to peo­ple from dif­fer­ent av­enues in mu­sic, pro­mot­ers and DJs. “I just found that re­ally ro­man­tic. I wasn’t ar­sed about mak­ing money, I didn’t wanna be fa­mous. If I could make my liv­ing in mu­sic some­way, that’d be great.” We leave the shop and head to­wards our next stop when the band spot a poster for an un­of­fi­cial “Cour­teen­ers After­show” out­side a bar. “Haha! It’s nice to be part of the lo­cal econ­omy! Keep­ing places open, keep­ing places go­ing…” says Fray. He pauses at the end of the road. “Oh shit, I don’t think we can go through there any more, can we?” Where once there was a quick cut-through, now there’s a branch of fam­ily eatery Bill’s. “Oh well, I’m glad we’ve got a fuck­ing Bill’s there,” tuts Fray. “To be fair, I have eaten there. Twice. It does fan­tas­tic poached eggs.” 3. 42nd Street A night­club just off Deans­gate known lo­cally as 42’ s, 42nd Street was on the for­mer site of Ge­orge Best’s ’ 70s bar Slack Alice. In re­cent years, it’s served as Manch­ester’s in­die disco hotspot. “It’s like our Haçienda, it’s where we went to have our re­lease at the end of the week,” says Fray. “It’s mad to say Haçienda, but it was an in­die mecca. In­die is a dirty word now but I don’t give a fuck­ing shit, I was hav­ing the best time out of any­body in the coun­try, fuck­ing fact. It was my mis­sion to have a good time.” He stands at the en­trance to the club and shakes his head. “Talk­ing about go­ing out to an in­die night,” he says. “This is so Cour­teen­ers!” In St. Jude’s big sin­ga­long track Not Nine­teen For­ever, Fray sings about how he “front crawled the crowd down the stairs” in ref­er­ence to pun­ters hazily mak­ing their way out of 42’ s. “There’d be 500 peo­ple on th­ese stairs,” he says, sud­denly aghast when he no­tices that the

“It’s like our Haçienda.”

Cour­teen­ers poster on the wall has been cov­ered up. “Fuck­ing hell!” he says, “Oa­sis on top of us! Argh! All the girls had kissed it’n’all!” “I’ve got you down here in­stead,” of­fers club owner Alan, who has kindly opened up in the mid­dle of the day to show us around. “Have ya?” says Fray, im­me­di­ately chirp­ing up again. “Oh, look at that,” he says, ad­mir­ingly. “Has some­one put dick­head on me?” “‘I love you’, some­one’s wrote,” says Alan. “That’ll do,” says Fray, giv­ing it closer in­spec­tion. “Big love heart for Co­nan, that’ll do.” We en­ter into the club’s main room, where Moores is read­ing a drinks menu pinned to the wall. “In­fla­tion’s never hit 42’ s,” he mar­vels, his fin­ger point­ing out the bit that says “Jäger­bomb, 90p”. “Right,” says Fray, “we’re go­ing to the step!” and he marches over to the corner where their gang would com­man­deer. Fit­tingly, in that sec­tion “You’re Not 19 For­ever” has been painted onto the wall. “That’s mad, that,” says the singer. The big nights out the band had here fed into the fren­zied, you’re­only-young-once spirit of their de­but. Fray says they went to the cooler club­nights too, one called Up The Racket, an­other called Smile, but 42’ s was the cheap thrill. “There’s this mass snob­bery, and I al­ways just felt like, ‘Why don’t you all just let your hair down, have a good time?’” says Fray. “We were al­ways like, ‘We’re just gonna have a good time and be di­rect.’ I wasn’t think­ing about song­writ­ing, I was just ex­press­ing what those nights out were like. St. Jude was of a time.” The band have been kicked out of here on a few oc­ca­sions, usu­ally for fight­ing with each other. “Ah, young and free,” smiles Fray. He signs the You’re Not 19 For­ever mu­ral for Alan, and we head back out into the driz­zle, down Deans­gate, across to Great Bridge­wa­ter Street, and into the arms of a nice cosy pub.

4. The Bri­ton’s Pro­tec­tion

Fray climbs the stairs and heads into the up­stairs room at The Bri­ton’s Pro­tec­tion, where he played two of his ear­li­est shows. One was as a solo artist, just him and his elec­tric gui­tar under his own name, and the next was with Campbell on drums, still, for poor old Campbell, under

“It’s smaller than I re­mem­ber.”

Fray’s own name. “It’s smaller than I re­mem­ber,” says Fray. The man­ager pops his head round the door. “Ac­tu­ally, it fits about 55 in,” he says. We head down­stairs and take a seat in front of the fire. “Fuck­ing hell, this is dan­ger­ous,” says Fray, tak­ing a sip of his Guinness. “We’ll stay here all day.” Fray knows how he came across in the band’s early in­ter­views – cocky Manc, an­tag­o­nis­tic mo­tor­mouth – and says he’s em­bar­rassed look­ing back. “I was full of self-be­lief but also rid­den with in­se­cu­ri­ties about what we were do­ing,” he says. “I think every­one thought we had our ch­ests puffed out and we] thought we were fuck­ing in­cred­i­ble. It couldn’t have been fur­ther from the truth.” He says St. Jude is an al­bum about “in­ad­e­qua­cies as a bloke, get­ting things wrong, mess­ing up,” some­thing that was over­looked be­cause he made the mis­take of hav­ing nine pints of Stella Ar­tois in his first ma­jor in­ter­view and ended up slag­ging other bands off. “It was never this cocky bravado, it was a lot more self-re­flect­ing,” he says. His early gigs were both an ex­ten­sion of go­ing out and a way of kick­ing back against fake scen­esters at the time. “There were peo­ple go­ing round Manch­ester in cow­boy hats, be­ing all Crosby, Stills & Nash. ‘But you’re from Crump­sall! Why are you singing in that ac­cent, dressed like a cow­boy?’” he says. “I just didn’t get it, so I thought, ‘Tight jeans, brogues’. I came from The Lib­ertines, 2004/2005, it was just a so­cial thing.” With him and Campbell es­tab­lished as a duo, it was in a bar near here that he for­mally, and drunk­enly, asked the pair’s old friend Moores to join, too. “I went, ‘I love your songs, they’re bril­liant,’ and Fray] said, ‘Well, do you wanna join my band?’” says Moores. “I said, ‘Yeah, ab­so­lutely,’ and he said, ‘Here’s the songs you need to learn then.’ And he gave me a week to do it.” Af­ter a few more pints in front of the fire, it’s back out into the rain to reach our fi­nal spot, walk­ing down Liver­pool Road and turn­ing onto Duke Street, stop­ping be­neath the rail­way line.

5. Castle­field

It was here in 2007 that the band played a now-defunct mu­sic fes­ti­val called Dper­cus­sion and re­alised they were be­com­ing quite the lo­cal at­trac­tion. Fray and Campbell had played it as a duo the year be­fore to 100 peo­ple, but on the back of the re­lease of Ca­vort­ing, 700 peo­ple packed out the rail­way arches to watch the quar­tet. “We looked out and there were more peo­ple there that we didn’t know than we did know. Like, ‘There’s strangers here now,’” says Fray. “Ad­mit­tedly, it was only £ 2 to get in, so there might have been a lot of pass­ing trade.” A break­through had been made. Lo­cal buzz was about to turn into na­tional in­trigue, and all those songs about go­ing out in Manch­ester, and be­ing young and un­sure and par­ty­ing your way through it all, were about to con­nect on a wider scale. They did their first proper gig in Oc­to­ber 2006, and 18 months later they had a Top 5 al­bum. “There was no grand plan,” says Fray. “We just had a good time. We were a gang be­fore we were a band.” He takes an­other look around, and points across to the 8450- ca­pac­ity out­door venue Castle­field Bowl, a stone’s throw from the spot of their Dper­cus­sion set and where they played two sold-out shows in 2013. Liam Fray al­lows him­self a mo­ment of re­flec­tion. Af­ter a few sec­onds, he gath­ers his band­mates and turns to Q and says, “Shall we go back to the pub?” The past is done, and the Cour­teen­ers have the lo­cal econ­omy to up­keep. Keep­ing places open, keep­ing places go­ing.

“There was no grand plan.”

Pride of Manch­ester: Cour­teen­ers (from left, Daniel “Co­nan” Moores, Liam Fray, Michael Campbell), Night & Day Café, North­ern Quar­ter, 12 March, 2018.

“Af­ter a nice polo shirt, are we, sir?” Liam Fray re­turns to the Fred Perry shop he once worked full-time in.

Floor show: Cour­teen­ers at “in­die-disco hotspot” 42nd Street.

“Down in one, lads!” Moores, Campbell and Fray do their bit for the lo­cal econ­omy, The Bri­ton’s Pro­tec­tion.

Load of old cob­bles: the band wind up in the city’s Castle­field area.

The way we were: Liam Fray and Michael Campbell at The Bri­ton’s Pro­tec­tion pub back in 2006.

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