Following my chat with Bad Manners frontman, Buster Bloodvessel recently (which you can enjoy here), I was looking forward massively to their Christmas gig in Liverpool, which Buster promised would be a real party. I’m glad to report he was spot on. Anyone who wasn’t already in the festive spirit tonight will now be harking some herald angels singing without any doubt.
The O2 Academy 2 is a strange place, almost like a pit, that always manages to become sweaty as soon as a crowd gathers. We arrive just as support, Max Splodge takes to the stage, with various members of Bad Manners musicians, and people are sweating in seconds. Opening with a cover of The Toy Dolls’ “Nelly the Elephant”, the party starts immediately and doesn’t let up.
Splodge formerly of Splodgenessabounds and later Angelic Upstarts is a classic punk frontman, working up the crowd with a solid set of covers including a note-perfect Ramones’ “Blitzkreig Bop” and Sham 69’s “Hurry Up Harry (We’re Goin’ Down The Pub!)”. The set finishes on their only real hit (to be fair), “Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps Please”, which reached number 7 in the UK charts in 1980 and became better known as the theme to the BBC sitcom, Two Pints of Lager. I was hoping to hear “Michael Booth’s Talking Bum” which featured on the same single, which I always preferred, a song that invited the interest of the police in early gigs due to live farting on stage. Different days.
Bad Manners fill the small stage with their ample line-up and play a tight instrumental before the appearance of Buster himself. Having lost much weight some years ago, Buster has now regained that trademark heft, but looks surprisingly healthy. There’s a little less frantic movement now from the iconic 65-year-old, but the enthusiasm for his art is still there. The crowd bays “You Fat Bastard” and Buster takes it proudly, beaming from his leather jacket adorned with printed police mug shots.
The hits come thick and fast starting with “My Girl Lollipop”, the 1964 novelty hit from Millie Small that Bad Manners gave a ranking ska makeover to in 1982. It’s a version that set that uneven balance of novelty and serious ska that would follow the band through their run of 80s singles and beyond, but as Buster explained when I spoke to him, “We’ve never been a novelty band, we’re very serious with our music but not very serious with our attitude.” It’s a perfect summation.
On its heels comes “Lorraine”, a song that nowadays might not get airplay due its Punch and Judy style allusions to domestic violence (“Lorraine punched me on the nose, so I slapped her round the head”), but from Buster its more slapstick than social commentary, and immediately summons crowd chanting of “Lorraine, Lorraine, Lorraine…”
For every pure ska hit there was also the well crafted / well produced single, like “Walking in the Sunshine” that gets an early airing and later “Inner London Violence.” The brass on “Walking in the Sunshine” is still booming and bright, despite a plethora of line up changes over the years.
Amongst the killer ska covers tonight there is also an unlikely version of Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”, that makes sense once the “I love you Baby” bit kicks in and “Bah da Bah da bah da bah bah!” becomes an anthem.
It’s the big hits tonight that bring not just nostalgia from the days when a cracking 7” slab of vinyl really had some currency in the pop charts, but also create a party atmosphere bar none, and the whole room is dancing around, with strangers embracing, and much laughter ensuing. Despite the fierce appearance of the otherwise cuddly Buster, this is one of the friendliest gig crowds we’ve witnessed in a long time and the atmosphere is hilariously electric.
“Feel like Jumping” has everyone leaping in the air, and absolute Bad Manners classics “Woolly Bully”, “Just a Feeling” and “Ne Ne Na Na Na Na Nu Nu” has everyone in a complete dancing frenzy.
Buster is one of the all-time great British frontmen, who knows 100% how to work his crowd. He only needs to stick out his massive tongue for the room to erupt.
He also knows how to leave the best ‘til last. “Special Brew” is an understated classic single where “Lip Up Fatty” is their ultimate anthem, ensuring further taunts of “You Fat Bastard” before the finale of “Can Can”. Archive footage shows Buster dancing to this in a Folies Bergere dress, but he’s happy now to express himself with much shouting and tongue waggling.
He leaves the stage and lets the band finish off and it’s over all too soon.
As the crowd of mainly men of a certain age, some wearing pork pie hats, some not, leave the room, its clear that everyone who came here to party are leaving more than satisfied.
To quote another Bad Manners song, “buona Sera”, till next time Buster.
Photos © Stu Johnston Photography
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