Having first seen him as a support act way back in 2009, this was only my second time seeing Chris T-T live. I’m slightly ashamed it’s taken me this long to get my second taste, but I’m glad I finally ventured to the small upstairs room at Gullivers on Oldham Street in Manchester.
Let us not get ahead of ourselves though, I may have gone to the gig to see Chris T-T & The Hoodrats, but as two tours had come together to share a venue for the evening, there were three other acts before them on the bill.
First up was Ellen Cox with her opening song ‘Fight Not Flight’. There was an immediate punk rock sensibility bursting from the stage, with lyrics like “There’s freedom in the wind, it’s in every song I sing” setting the scene nicely. The set progressed through a number of songs stemming directly from a rural welsh upbringing, an upbringing that has led Ellen to craft and perform songs that display both honesty and a hint of optimism that is so often missing from a singer-songwriter’s toolbox. I was impressed with the performance and hope that “leaving the town the colour it’s always been” during a ‘Quiet Night With Friends’ will continue to be possible for Ellen once the superstardom she deserves arrives.
After just enough time to get to the bar and back, Mark McCabe took to the stage to bring us his own brand of acoustic folk. Of the evening’s acts, Mark’s performance had the most conventional singer-songwriter sound, but that’s no bad thing. In amongst the well founded complaints about Manchester’s frustrating one-way system and a confession while introducing his song ‘Crutches’ to getting an eight year old girl singing about anti-depressants, Mark proved he was a very competent performer while tackling both his own songs and the cover that was thrown into the mix.
The third act of the night was Oxygen Thief. I was unsure what to make of this performance, there were lots of bits scattered through the set that I liked, unfortunately the aggression on show didn’t really work for me in this setup. There is no doubting the confidence of the performance, but I found myself thinking the songs would benefit from having a full band to fill out the sound. It transpired I’m not the first to have these thoughts, and before the set was over there was an announcement that Oxygen Thief had an alternative guise as a three-piece band. I’ve since had a little listen to the full band track available online and I do think it sounds better that way and I’d be keen to see Oxygen Thief again with the band behind him.
Chris T-T & The Hoodrats
Despite being the only band on the bill, our headline performance was opened without any instruments at all, as Chris performed an accapella version of ‘Lines and Squares’, the A.A. Milne poem he has previously put to music on the album ‘Disobedience’. My most vivid memory of my first time seeing Chris T-T was his accapella rendition of ‘M1 Song’ during technical difficulties – a feat repeated at this gig too, when his guitar lost its A-string – and these accapella moments really add contrast to the set and show off the vocal dexterity on offer. The musical accompaniment on the rest of the tracks shows just as much skill, I have now seen lead guitarist Jen Macro play as part of at least four different bands and can honestly say I’ve enjoyed them all. The band rattled through an excellent set, and after declaring that the crowd must now take up the mantle of being their marketing department, the closing song of the evening ‘We Are The King Of England’ was performed to an appreciative crowd. I’m sure there are a number of people who will have left ready to pick up the mantle offered.