At least it wasn’t just me that had headed into deepest, darkest Lancashire. Supporting The Lathums, and on his first tour, was Ryan Rooney (yes, he did receive the expected football chanting of his name!). A singer songwriter from Liverpool, he opened with just guitar, microphone and a drum pedal. The latter he used to great effect to give his work an edge that he might not have needed but that certainly gave extra depth.
There’s not much that comes out of this city that isn’t good musically, and Rooney was no exception. Happily bantering with the audience he was arguably the perfect warm up. He took, he gave, he delivered. His work isn’t dissimilar to what you might expect from a solo Alex Moore to be fair. Honest lyrics, some well crafted guitar work and a tight voice to match. He took us through a medley of his own numbers but couldn’t help throwing in ‘Twist and Shout’ too as something of a homage to his home town. Of course, this went down well, but so did everything else. Songs like ‘Harriet’ and ‘Hours and Hours’ demonstrated his quality but the proof is out there too on Spotify with his demo recordings of ‘Flashback’ and ‘Flicker’. Give them a whirl – you’ll enjoy them, and you’ll also see why was a perfect choice to warm the crowd up. He finished his set with ‘We Are Where We Are’ which was a great choice to lead into what came next.
It’s been a weird one, writing this. In many ways I feel like I’ve been part of The Lathums’ short but stratospheric journey that has seen them catapult themselves from nowhere (well, Wigan) to where they are now – sell out tours, festival favourites, a huge following and double number one album winners. Even the band name resonates…many a youthful evening spent in their namesake village of Lathom instead of studying. With all this in mind I pondered long and hard as to whether to review this gig or not in the fear that it might get lost in the multiplicity of commentary about the band out there. But, as you can see, write it I did and I’m glad that I have as it gives me a chance to celebrate them and their success.
The journey for me started in something of a field watching four unknown boys playing a bunch of untried tunes to an untested audience. For me, however, the writing was on the proverbial wall then. Their musicianship and intricate arrangements left me convinced that I’d witnessed the start of something special. I’m so glad to say that I was right.
Four or so years on it’s slightly surreal to see them playing to a smaller crowd once again as part of their record store tour. After all, they’ve been on stages with The Killers, Kasabian and Blossoms as well as touring Europe. Much is the same tonight but much is different. Sitting at the heart of it all is the innate ability to write a good tune. Melody is king here. Alex Moore (vocals and guitar – occasionally) is developing into a master of his work along with his side kick Scott Concepcion (lead guitar). I honestly won’t be at all surprised if in the future we mention their partnered names in the same way that we mention song writing duos such as Morrissey and Marr, Hayes and Porter or maybe even…no, you complete the set yourself. Ryan Durrans (percussion) continues to beat out his magic behind the kit, almost keeping the prolific pair in check.
The sound is as good as ever and their precision has never wavered.
So what has changed then? Well, most obviously, it’s now a five piece – on stage at least. Matty Murphy (bass) joined fairly recently and additional guitar work is provided by a fifth member (he who shall not be named) that allows Moore to drop his guitar and vocalise only for certain songs. The sound quality and the mix are now incredible, harmonies are used in a more measured way, shared between Concepcion and Murphy, and the set itself is longer. Much longer. Oh, and there’s a piano.
Following The Lathums has been somewhat like watching a caterpillar transform into a butterfly. It all started with a lively creature wriggling around a trying to find its way. Just as it was getting there it had to contend with a period of enforced dormancy through the pandemic before emerging in all its glory via bigger, better concerts and a best selling album. It mustn’t be forgotten, however, that this was the band that blazed the way for the restart of concerts, having being cherry picked to kick things off alongside Blossoms. But here we are again. Not arenas but a Lancashire Hall. Not upstairs in the main concert space but downstairs in what you could consider ‘the wedding venue’! A bit of chintz here and there, and a stage curtain! When was the last time that you saw that?
When the curtain rose, or in this case was pulled back, you could have been forgiven for thinking that an oversized Elvis impersonator would be revealed. Fortunately that wasn’t the case and instead we got our first glimpse of the band themselves…in front of another curtain!
Sitting square and centre in the set list for this tour is a song that, for me, typifies this metamorphosis. Facets. It was the song that convinced me of their talent when I first saw them. An experimental number then, full of changes of pace, a heavy bass riff, intricate drumming, long guitar solos and unfinished lyrics it had been hiding in its chrysalis ready to be launched as a high tempo staple of album and concert. The caterpillar that was ‘Facets and Their Idioms’ is now a fully fledged lepidoteran in its own right.
I must admit that it was strange hearing this song live in its new guise. Better? Just different, but equally as good, for me at least. Just as strange was a set without ‘The Great Escape’, ‘Villainous Victorians’, ‘This Place O’Yours’ or even ‘Oh My Love’. Replacing them, however, was not difficult for a band with so many high quality songs to their repertoire. There’s glimpses of the first album here, but only glimpses. The title track ‘How Beautiful Life Can Be’ creates the top slice of the sandwich whilst ‘I See Your Ghost’ provides the bottom. The filling is most definitely all ‘From Nothing To A Little Bit More’ however. There’s plenty of energy here with songs such as ‘Say My Name’ and ‘Sad Face Baby’ as well as more balladic tunes like ‘Land And Sky’.
Moore’s vocals are spot on. He’s always been a great vocalist but he seems to have got better still. Of course, Concepcion’s jangling guitar work is allowed to come to the fore in ‘Rise And Fall’ and ‘I Know Part 1’ amongst others, jumping between his customary Rickenbacker, a Stratocaster and a Les Paul. With Murphy using a Rickenbacker bass too I was momentarily transported back to the days of seeing The Jam live. Ah, what memories! There’s also use of the aforementioned piano in ‘Turmoil’, allowing us to see a little more of Concepcion’s talent on the keys and for Moore to command the stage, microphone in hand, crooning a la Rat Pack. And in between numbers? I’m not sure who stole the cookies from the jar but his drink of choice seemed to be a good old cup of tea.
One thing that hasn’t changed, however successful, lauded or critically acclaimed the band have been to date, is their final number. It remains, and hopefully always will be, ‘Artificial Screens’. This is their anthem of sorts, a song about the disconnect from reality and personal interaction that technology has created. It is a song that perfectly showcases their strengths and artistry: poignancy, precision and intricacy. For me it was the highlight; a chance to see all their talents come to the fore and combine in such a synchronised way. It was The Lathums that I first saw and the unique sound that drew me in.
I had missed those pre chrysalis days if I’m honest. The days of innocence, chats before and after shows, intimate venues, raw recordings, stylised logos, Scott’s duffle coat (remember that, Paddington?) and the glorious unknown in front of them. I’m ready to fully embrace the butterfly era though, am enjoying it in equal measure and feel privileged to have witnessed the band’s growth in such a short space of time. It’s tough being ‘big’, it’s tough being signed to a huge label but it’s refreshing and reassuring to know that they continue to do all that they can to keep real, keep grounded and to connect with their fans. Playing such a relatively small venue, it’s almost like they’re starting again. Back to caterpillar times. Clearly they’re not,and they can’t, but this approach can only be admired and applauded.
Don’t change. Grow…but stay papillon.
Words and pictures by Duncan Grant.