The Courteeners at Heaton Park | pic: Callum Thornhill

THE COURTEENERS. A weird one. Like, proper weird. Let me explain: the band sold out Manchester‘s Old Trafford flogging 50,000 tickets for a line-up celebrating Manc favourites past and present. They sold out Manchester Arena to celebrate a decade of St. Jude and are the second highest act at this year’s Reading and Leeds Festival so far. By this logic they should be one of the greatest bands of recent years selling out arenas worldwide – but strangely they are still not regarded as one of the big dogs.

Of course, by their fans they are only ever regarded as the greatest live band on earth, but why haven’t they ever hit the ‘big time.’ There are a few reasons I consider to be the cause. Reason one: their albums post-Anna are hardly groundbreaking. Concrete Love had some fantastic tunes, e.g. How Good It Was and Beautiful Head but was filled with filler tracks overall, whereas Mapping the Rendezvous is sub-par from front to back, excluding maybe Modern Love and The 17th.

Could it be this concept of picking some gems from a generally average album that has left them stagnate? A lazy comparison (but one I feel fits) would be putting them up against Arctic Monkeys. Similar backgrounds, e.g. translating tales of the gritty north into sharp shooting three minute indie anthems and snarling them to intensely sweaty crowds. Instead of moving with the times and the band’s own surroundings like AM did, they have consistently thrived off clinging onto said gritty north anthems.

For example, A Certain Romance is undoubtedly a fan favourite and would go down a treat if it was pulled out by Turner and co. However, in their final year of touring (2014) it was played only three times in 89 performances. Instead replaced with the slicker, more-appropriate-to-their-nature rock ‘n’ roll ballads, e.g. R U Mine and Snap Out of It.

Now take a look at Courteeners: they have announced a re-release of St. Jude – an album that, to be honest, is a fantastic accumulation of in-your-face ruggedness, but one that, in my opinion, no longer represents the band. Liam Fray is still rolling out the likes of Cavorting time and time again; admittedly many fans can relate to this and the atmosphere is phenomenal, but the track is a decade old and should have been moved away from as the band developed away from a group of scallys into a sophisticated outfit.

Another reason they seem to have peaked at this level is playing the same tour over and over again. There are three things certain in life: Death, taxes and The Courteeners announcing a tour in the autumn/winter time. Usually playing O2 Academy size venues with a big-blow-out at an arena to finish with. Every now and again they will leave Manchester off before adding a big summer all-dayer, e.g. Castlefield Bowl, Heaton Park, Old Trafford. Because of this, I’ve seen them everywhere from Newcastle to London and Leeds to Nottingham. Absolutely nothing wrong with this approach and giving fans something to look forward to after festival season, but you would think bigger venues, or even a longer run of smaller shows, would keep things fresh and exciting?

Imagine: you have loved a band like The Courteeners for what seems an eternity. Your first show seeing them was somewhere like Rotherham in 2008 and now, in 2018, you could head back and relive the St. Jude experience. It would be excellent; both for the fan and the band – however, the debut record is being showcased in an arena. For me personally it is not an arena-esque album. It should be blowing up speakers and providing the soundtrack to a night of those who cavort and snort, not echoing around Manchester Arena where someone at the back is watching it through a screen.

The third and final reason is that they are, from experience, massively reliant on what their UK crowd make them. Have they chose to capitalise on their loyal fanbase at home or do overseas music fanatics simply not fancy what they are about? I am not too sure, but it is fairly obvious with the information shown in the intro of this piece that their fans will always be there to snap up tickets to UK shows. Is it really THAT important to have an intensely passionate fanbase all over the world or is constantly selling out tours enough to be regarded as one of the biggest bands of the past decade?

Take their newly added warm-up shows for example: Blackburn‘s King George‘s Hall and Sheffield‘s O2 Academy. They will sell out instantly and if St. Jude dominates the set everyone will have an incredible time. But what if they announced further EU shows post-festival season? How will they do? I’m sure it would be a great excuse to head over to Amsterdam or Paris for a city-break, but would the locals be there screaming Sycophant alongside you?

To finalise; there are definitely elements of what The Courteeners are about that makes them one of Britain‘s most exciting bands ten years since their debut. However, since the Falcon/Anna era I am giving the verdict that they have been content with being the big fish in the small pond. I always said after Old Trafford that until the band do something to wow me I will be putting them on the back burner – since then Liam Fray has toured solo, they have been announced as the first headliners of Neighbourhood Festival and sold out the Royal Albert Hall and Manchester Arena, yet here I am still sceptical about what they actually bring. Did they peak at Old Trafford? I am sure 2018 will give the answer.


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