Shortly after the band’s set had finished, I was back at my flat on all fours over the toilet bowl puking a stomach full of vodka into the Manchester sewage system, every violent heave and subsequent splash amounting to around £6 Ancoats prices. An expensive spew, and a truly horrible state for a man of twenty-five to have gotten himself into; embarrassing for everyone involved…
And yet, as I crawled from bathroom to bed, unable to even climb the final foot onto the mattress, I had no regrets. Through the fog of my inebriated stupor, I knew there had been a good reason for the excessive celebration that had led me to this end: The blaring lights, the jostling bodies, the pulsing beat reverberating round the room – it all came roaring back, and before passing out, I laughed aloud. I’d just witnessed my friends blow the roof off one of Manchester’s most iconic venues. Saturday 3rd September 2022 will be a day I never forget.
I’d arrived at Band on the Wall with can in hand around 7pm ready for a big night. Having not visited since the renovation, I was suitably impressed with what they’d done with the space. The lighting was vibrant and artful, and the speaker rigs huge and imposing, the affect forming a satanic musical altar of the stage. This is going to be quite a sesh – was one thought that crossed my mind, but what struck me more deeply was the age of the first act, Alex Spencer; Only fifteen years old I was informed by a punter, but if that were true, then it didn’t seem to faze the fresh-faced indie lad one bit. He launched into a tidy set list composed of his own tunes along with a healthy dose of crowd pleasers: Oasis, The Beatles, and the Arctic Monkeys to name a few. I thought he performed with consummate skill, clearly buzzing off the sizeable crowd yet never losing control, although inciting everyone to torch-waving towards the end may have been a little too far, but then who could blame him in his moment of triumph? Everyone was happy to oblige.
He ensured the crowd were warmed up and ready to bounce, soon swelling to their hundreds and fizzing with expectation of what was for me the main event: Madame Claude. It was at this point that the more earnest drinking began and by the time Ba Ba Boom by The Jamaicans announced the boys arrival, my clumsy two-step was at full tilt – surely a foreshadowing of the depravity to which I would later descend. Though the crowd were similarly intoxicated: leering and chanting and climbing on each other’s shoulders, thirsty for the ska-inspired tunes we had grown to know and love over the past eight months of relentless gigging and drinking and working to reach this point: the crowning moment of Madame Claude’s progress so far.
They opened with the whining melodica melody of The King. Everyone went wild. Lead singer Frank was clearly up for the occasion, springing into action with an exuberant hop that set his hippie hair rippling up and down to the fast-paced two-tone beat, upheld tightly by the band behind. It was a pace that didn’t quit as they went straight into their next number, a namesake of mine: Paddy Went Away, displaying once again their knack for a catchy yet innovative riff that seems to take hold of your limbs and force them into rhythmic action.
Ska has this magical quality of sound that takes you back in time, without the culture that reminds you of your parents. Anyone observing the scenes on the immense stage might have thought they’d fallen back into the late 70’s when Ska was in its riotous second wave, incorporating punk and post-punk influences through bands such as The Specials, The Beat and Selector. All of which Madame Claude have cited as influences, though they certainly bring their own twist.
A minor technical hitch occurred before the third song. Mikey’s amp got over excited and blew from sheer exhaustion, bringing the set to an abrupt pause. The mad thing was this only served to stir the crowd into a greater ecstasy supplemented by sly visits to the bar. By the time the issue was rectified, it was like a second intro with more pissed people – a real-time rewind. They played both their Spotify singles: Threw It Way and Minding My Own, and for a while I was lost to the violent mosh-pit, belting out the lyrics with everyone else.
Madame Claude are very much a live band, their melodies and harmonies ringing best when they’re echoing round dancehalls pouring with sweat. The Band on the Wall soundman tuned into this vibe, allowing for a heady reverb that delayed Frank’s voice in the right moments, maximising the raucous yet melodious mixture that so enthralled the crowd. Once the band find a producer capable of harnessing their energy in the same way, they’ll have a few serious tunes ready for streaming. One of which could be the number they closed with: Jellylegs. I don’t remember much of it – the banshee harmonies, thumping bass, spraying drinks, screams of ‘Claude’ amongst bobbing heads; but I was there until the bitter end, pissed out my tree and shouting for an encore.
The headline set from local legends Freeda is a little hazy in my mind. But despite the incredibly frenetic crowd burning most of their energy earlier on, there was still enough in reserve to give Freeda the attention they deserve. Showing their experience and class, they glided from hit to hit without even needing to take a second to pause as frontman Sean Rowles, in the most see-through top i’ve seen on a stage, commanded the undivided attention of the iconic venue. Freeda’s releases keep getting better and better and shone bright live on stage, but the old favourites fit perfectly into this sublime setlist. It was a special performance from Freeda and an even more special night for the band as it’s their final show with drummer AJ before he goes on a journey around the world.
The next morning came bleak and grey for me, full of heartfelt promises that drinking again of that scale will never again be repeated for the sake of my mental wellbeing. But of course, such promises are meaningless. Especially in light of the fact that next month Madame Claude are taking it up another notch: On the 28th October they headline YES basement, supported by fellow reggae boys E&I Collective and a lifelong protégé of mine who shall remain nameless for now. Needless to say, it will be their biggest do yet, so if this invigorating review is anything to go by, follow Madame Claude on Instagram and get your tickets now! Only £12.50 you skinny rats!
It might just be the gig that kills me… but what a way to go.
Written by Patrick Bell
Photo by Benjamin Ashton