Mark Owen - Life Cafe Manchester - 13.12.05

Despite releasing 3 albums and collaborating with the likes of Bernard Butler, Ian McCulloch and Arthur Baker amongst others, his solo shows have often been understated with only the hardcore fans turning out (as Mark jokes himself he's played all the Manchester Academy's starting off at Ac1 and ending up at Ac3 for his previous Manchester gig). Tonight it's different with this sold out show being upgraded to the larger venue at Life Cafe as the pandemonium of the Take That reformation tour had fans queuing outside the venue for hours before the doors opened.

Modern chameleon of the indie-pop scene he's slipped on a number of different disguises from the hippy-esque imagery of the "Green Man" era through to the androgynous look of the second album "In Your Own Time" and last years Victorian elf look for his independent album "How The Mighty Fall". Tonight he's modelled himself on Maximo Park with the grey shirt, black tie and Paul Smith aping comb-over cut.

After the post-punk intro he launches into the classic "I Am What I Am" single before the barbershop harmonies of "Makin Out". Slowing things down for the countrified "Hail Mary" Owen proves why the aforementioned luminaries all clamour to work with him. A classic songwriter these are songs that tower league's above the third rate Britpop of Kaiser Chiefs and their ilk, and with three albums behind him tonight has the air of a greatest hits tour.

A trio of classic Owen tracks, "Clementine", "Kill With Your Smile" and "Believe In The Boogie" set him up for the double whammy of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" and "Could It Be Magic" with interpolations of "No Regrets". It's these songs that sum up everything about Mark Owen's career to date. A wide eyed innocent child who got whisked away into international fame with one of the worlds biggest pop bands but who secretly owned albums by every single important artists of the last forty years and took these as a blueprint for his own modern classic songs.

For some he'll always be cute ickle Mark in his Johnsons Baby Powder crop top, but those who look past the history will see he's one of this country's most underrated songwriters. And tonight proved that when he's got the audience to feed off he's also one of our best performers and a master of the stage.

Words: Alex McCann
Photos: Karen McBride

Click here to leave your comments on the Message Board
(NB: The message board opens in a new window so please disable your pop-up blocker to view)