Manchester was an interesting choice for the Conservative Party Conference, particularly when you consider that there hasn’t been a Tory MP representing the city since 1987. Any belief that Prime Minister David Cameron claims to have in being able to win over the people of Manchester certainly wasn’t reflected in the “ring of steel” erected around the conference venues. Neither did the tens of thousands of people who had come out to protest the first majority Conservative government since 1992 look like they would be won over any time soon.
Various events organised by The People’s Assembly were held across the city from 2nd to 7th October, and one such event was the Beat Back! Music Against Austerity gig held at Manchester Academy on Monday 5th, the day after approximately 60,000 people had marched against the Tories’ austerity agenda. The People’s Assembly had turned to Charlotte Church to arrange the musicians and she came up trumps, with Public Service Broadcasting and Super Furry Animals both agreeing to play for free in solidarity with all those affected by the multi-billion pound cuts over the past five years.
Public Service Broadcasting were up first, kicking off their set with a run of four-tracks from their superb 2013 debut, Inform-Educate-Entertain. Beginning with “Signal 30” and ending with “Spitfire” they blasted out of the blocks. Communicating with the audience using only voice samples, they dedicated their set to a “fairer, just and more equal society.” After the full pelt opening, the instrumental-trio turned their attention to 2015’s up with “Everest” from their debut. Despite the energetic set, the crowd spent much of it motionless and mesmerised by the archival and documentary footage being shown on the projector screen of the Cold War Space Race and Hillary and Norgay’s ascent up the world’s tallest peak.
After a 30-minute interval which included an appearance by satirist Joylon Rubenstein, Charlotte Church arrived on stage with a full band and an entourage of her friends. Her set featured of a mix of covers and her own material bookended by Ultra Nate’s “Free” and Dee-Lite’s “Groove is in the Heart.” The crowd response was a mixed one, containing pockets of energetic dancers and people with their hands in their pockets looking a bit unsure about it all. Charlotte Church seemed to enjoy herself though, but not as much as the guitarist who also doubled up as a conductor for the makeshift choir.
By the time the headline act took to the stage it was already gone 11pm, with a number of people worried about missing their train home. Any such fears were soon forgotten when Super Furry Animals slowly emerged to “Slow Life” with Gruff Rhys donning his now famous red Power Ranger helmet. Having not released an album since 2009’s Dark Days/Light Years, the evening was reserved for fan favourites with “Rings Around the World” and “Do or Die” getting the crowd bouncing early on. “Hello Sunshine” had to be stopped halfway through because the audience wouldn’t stop cheering during one of its slight pauses, with Gruff Rhys using it to thank everyone for coming, joking that even the lasers wanted to protest the cuts.
After all the early excitement the set took a more mellow turn, with “Pan Ddaw’r Wawr” and “Run! Christian Run!” But energy levels didn’t drop for very long with “Hometown Unicorn” restoring some of that earlier giddiness. By the time “Juxtapozed With U” and “Golden Retriever” arrived the crowd was jumping and slipping around in puddles of beer again. The final two songs were reserved for a good old sing-a-long, starting with “Mountain People” with a very noisy finale of heavy guitars and electronics. The evening closed with predictably, but no less enjoyably, an extended ten-minute version of “The Man Don’t Give a Fuck.” After exiting the stage Gruff Rhys left a couple of signs behind, one saying “THE END” and the other with a message saying, “STAY ACTIVE ACTIVISTS.”