The Stereophonics are back on their much awaited tour of the UK which kicked off two weeks ago in Glasgow, and I was fortunate to be one of the thousands of fans who crammed themselves into the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham yesterday to experience the latest handbags and gladrags of their anniversary tour.
In celebration of ten years of the band, Stereophonics have embarked on a ‘Decade in the Sun’ tour around the country performing to crowds from Manchester to Brighton, finishing off on December 20th at the O2 Arena in London.
The Welsh rock band originated in the village of Cwmaman near Aberdare where Kelly Jones, Richard Jones and original drummer Stuart Cable began writing, playing and performing in local bars. After being spotted by John Brand in March 1996 the band were the first to be signed to Richard Branson’s new label V2. In 1997 the band won a BRIT for ‘Best Newcomer’ and have gone from strength to strength, releasing a total of 6 albums, five reaching #1 in the UK and 25 singles, of which have all entered the top 40. Dakota became their first #1 single in 2005 after the sacking of Cable in 2003 and hiring of Javier Wayler. Another addition to the band was guitarist Adam Zindani who remains performing with the rest of the band today.
The show kicked off with a brief but entertaining performance from support band The Courteeners who came across as a mix of the Pigeon Detectives with the melodic guitar and upbeat tempo with a hint of the Kooks in the vocals. Overall a good warm up act for the Phonics (or certainly the twenty-something’s at the front seemed to think so) ending with their January single ‘What took you so long?’
Kicking off with a well known hit ‘A thousand trees,’ Kelly’s husky voice growled out to the now jumping-up-and-down-manically crowd, warmly greeted with screams, cheers and the flinging of beer from the hardcore fans as the band wallowed through ‘Mr Writer’ before launching into ‘Superman’ and ‘I wouldn’t believe your radio’.
The venue was decoratively lit, with a background of panels which flashed psychotic abstract images during the upbeat tracks, and atmospheric strobe lights and smoke, wafting through the band as they stumbled around through the softer songs. The two main screens screened fast cuts of the action up onstage from the two sides, including crops of Zindani’s solos, bumpy crowd shots alongside extreme close ups, tight enough to see the sweat slipping down Richard Jones’s face from every corner of the room.
Thank God it’s the Greatest Hits is what I have to say in regards to ‘Have a Nice Day’ and ‘Handbags and Gladrags,’ two of the Phonics’s most loved, most played singles from the past decade. As discussed on the outward journey with my father in the car, Jones has publically declared on numerous occasions how he will never play those songs again. However, we fans paid for the best, and that’s jolly well what we got alongside old classics such as the bands first single ‘Local Boy in the Photograph’ and ‘Traffic’. Accompanying this was an extremely gruff solo version of ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ in which a single red spotlight fell upon Jones as he gravelled his way through with just a couple of echoey chords (another true example of the impact of technology on our culture – sat nav just would’ve have allowed the creati0n of such a song).
The line-up mixed between the slow melodic rasps of ‘Since I told you it’s over’ to the upbeat tempo set by Zindani’s snare in ‘My own Worst Enemy’. Despite the fact that Jones changed guitars more often than girls change clothes, the contrast worked well, alternating between fast and slow, almost in a Nirvana-esque style from ‘Step on my old size nine’s’ to ‘Devil’ both evoking a cheery sing-along response from the highly engaged, energetic crowd (a perhaps significant achievement due to the average age of forty-something – probably a result of a mix of beer and chips).
The encore consisted of an array of stars filling the previously lit up background as Kelly strummed along to ‘You’re my star,’ finishing with an eruption of shiny confetti from a streamer jet somewhere onstage before embarking on a growly version of ‘Bartender and the Thief.’ However, the night just wouldn’t have been complete without the final bellow of ‘I don’t know where we are going now’ from the thousands of fans who joined Jones in ‘Dakota’ before the band repeated their thank-yous and bade the crowd goodnight.
More than just background music, this rock band is classic proof that a pinch of welsh talent and a few guitars can go a long way. Nothing fashionable, nothing popular, but the band certainly have a spark that really does erupt live. A Decade in the Sun is just the first of many milestones for the Stereophonics, a band that will surely continue for years to come. It only takes four Welshmen to create a rock band. One match to burn a thousand trees.