Hard Fi

by Jill

Manchester Apollo
8th May 2006

I think we’d got a bit besieged by all the live stuff by this stage. Six in ten days … it all starts to blend into one great big band by then. And this was the one out of all of them that we had the lowest expectations for. Could this really be a £20 gig? WHY was this a £20 gig? My Gig Mate was so underwhelmed by the prospect that he was actually asleep when I went to pick him up. Still, I managed to keep him quiet on the long journey up the M62 by showing him how to get EBay on my mobile …as a result I missed the turning off the ring road and we were even later …arrgh! Not looking good so far!

But once inside we still had time to peruse the merchandise store (top bright yellow Hard Fi lighters with built in bottle openers!), get a couple of pints in each and find somewhere to stand. It’s the second night of two for the band at this venue, and the Apollo seems packed tonight, although it’s maybe not a capacity crowd. So we wait to see whether this particular Staines collective can make good, or whether, as we suspect, that they will simply plod their way through the album.

But hey! They make good! And more! The band arrives onstage to a driving ‘Middle Eastern Holiday’, complemented with projected images of the Gulf War. The first of two new songs tonight is similarly accompanied by crowd-pleasing images of Manchester, while singer Richard Archer attempts to rouse the audience with assurances that they are so much better than the previous night’s mob. Album favourites ‘Tied Up Too Tight’ and ‘Feltham Is Singing Out’ have everyone singing along, while the second new number (possibly called ‘You And Me’) slots in nicely. It’s always a danger with bands touring with their debut album that they are constrained by their lack of material and end up playing a setlist-by-numbers. Fortunately, this is far from the case. Archer banters with the crowd and he and his fellow band members look as though they are enjoying themselves, putting as much as they possibly can into the performance with jagged guitar riffs complementing their tales of Smalltown England: accounts of teenage pregnancy and permanent lack of cash, young offenders and far off wars, fractured love affairs and the weekend club culture. Current single ‘Better Do Better’ is joyously received, and is followed by a cheeky cover of the White Stripes’ ‘Seven Nation Army’. Everyone is bouncing by the time that we reach ‘Cash Machine’; perhaps overexposed on TV and radio, but here sounding fresh and exhilarating. An ecstatic ‘Hard To Beat’ puts everyone into a party mood, and the band leave the stage to roars from the crowd for more.

Archer returns alone to the stage for a moving acoustic version of ‘Move On Now’, which, I’m sure, has people actually holding their breath for 3½ minutes. The rest of the band reappear for ‘Stars Of CCTV’, projecting grainy black and white images of audience members on the screen behind them. Archer implores us to party like it’s Friday night, and the room erupts with the anthemic ‘Living For The Weekend’. Then they are gone, albeit with the revelation that a lot of their enthusiasm tonight may have been due to the fact that the show is being broadcast live on the Steve Lamacq show.

No matter. A £20 gig? Absolutely! Would we see them again? Without a doubt! It’s one of those shows where everyone leaves on a high. They done good, the Staines lads. They have managed to touch the zeitgeist, the souls of disaffected teens and twenty-somethings, just discovering that the worlds of adulthood and work do not quite live up to the golden promises that they have been fed through their youth.

Festival season beckons – my guess is that Hard Fi will be one of the highlights.


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