Hard-Fi / The Rumble Strips - Manchester Central - 17.12.07

Its probably the first time in 8 years that Designer Magazine has been able to use the phrase "heavily influenced by Dexy's Midnight Runners" but the Rumble Strips are so indebted to the band they may as well call themselves the Kevin Rowland Appreciation Society. Note though far from being a bad thing the Rumble Strips obsession with all things Northern Soul is actually probably the best thing to happen to music since the likes of Orlando, My Life Story and kenickie were ruling the airwaves (well my airwaves anyway). In front of Designer Magazine a fan acts as giddy and excited as we imagine teenage girls would when the first wave of Motown hit Britain and she knows every single song within the first 3 seconds. With tracks like "Girls And Boys In Love" and "Time" its hard not to become enraptured by this band with Tom Gorbutt and Harry Clark's brass flourishes never intruding too much while managing to drive the song along. We're not even sure if regular bassist Sam Mansbridge is even mic'ed up when he bands the orange drum but it doesn't really matter - he looks as cool as f*ck. The Rumble Strips are possibly are favourite new-ish band and for the life of us we cant understand why they aren't headlining this show.

In the early days Hard Fi looked as if they were going to be one of the vital bands in the UK now lets face it they're just plain shite. Designer Magazine first witnessed the bands supporting the likes of the Bravery and Boy Kill Boy and each time they walked away taking the focus away from the headline bands, the mini album they released was one of those classic albums that recalled the Clash, early Primal Scream and like their support band tonight lots of Northern Soul. After that it all went downhill, the first official major label album "Star Of CCTV" was essentially the mini-album with a few bad pop singles added to it and the less said about the rancid back end of Britpop album that was "Once Upon A Time In The West" the better.

Live they've no become a charachiture of themselves. A cartoon Clash for a generation that knows f*ck all about politics and seemingly f*ck all about music by the indifferent look on most of the crowds faces. And yes we could of counted every single one because despite Richard Archers claim that there's 6000 people in Manchester Central were pretty sure they could have fitted the crowd into Manchester Academy and still had room for a few more.

The main problem about most of the material tonight is that like the tail end of Britpop everything is covered with brass and string sections and seems to take Hurricane Number 1's "The Strongest Will Survive" as a reference point. Granted the first album was recorded in a garage and the album may have been a necessary exercise in studio wankery but you'd have felt by the time they got to the live stages they'd have felt the need to tone it down a bit. Only "We Need Love" and "Television" of the newer songs actually stand up as fine songs rather than fine production values and it isn't helped by the fact that each song has a backdrop reminiscent of 5ive or some trashy pop band.

Tonight's show is just about rescued by a collection of classic early tracks such "Cash Machine", "Gotta Reason" and "Hard To Beat". Even tonight, "Living For The Weekend" which I normally don't like stands tall over much of the set.

Whether Hard Fi will ever recover from this tour remains to be seen because its unlikely Designer Magazine will be back to put ourselves through it again unless Richard Archer takes a note out of The Rumble Strips book or looks back to his quality output with his long lost band Contempo. Hard Fi - the band that used to have soul and sold it!

Alex McCann

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