Hop & Grape, Manchester (16/10/01)

Arrived at the venue with the hope of seeing Grand Drive before Witness, but turns out they had come on first so that was quite a disappointing start to the evening. 

Delta were about to hit the stage as we arrived, but we decided there were more pressing issues at hand like...a cheap bar downstairs! Got a few drinks in before heading backstage for a chat with Dylan, and finally getting to meet Julian for the first time - albeit very briefly!

They got the call to go onstage soon after 10.00, and yet again it seemed we would miss most of the set due to having to catch the last train home! Thankfully (for us anyway, probably not for everyone else!) it was a fairly shortish set, so we managed to see it through to the end.

After the last couple of full band gigs in Manchester (Academy and Roadhouse) which were hindered by sound problems, it was good to see the sound engineer get it right for once! Opening song was American Pie 2 closer, "Here's One For You". 

My hangover is still playing havoc with my memory, so at the moment I can't for the life of me, remember the rest of the setlist! It was made up mainly of Under A Sun album tracks, with a
couple of oldies.

What I definitely CAN remember though, was the song they finished with - a storming version of Pushchair (played for the very first time incidentally a couple of nights before at the Glasgow gig).

The crowd were pretty subdued, which is pretty unusual for a Manchester gig, but they all seemed to enjoy it nevertheless.

Its possible they might of come back on to play an encore after Pushchair, but I had to rush off for the last train home, but hopefully (selfish!) they didn't!

Dylan Harris




Strange as it may seem, I have always had a bit of a soft spot for Witness. Their debut album came out at a time when the world was still living with Travis and The Verve, nu-acoustic had not yet broken out of the bedroom, and Coldplay was something you did with your mates on a chilly December afternoon. But the band did go out and play around the country incessantly. I saw them five times - four in support to other acts.
    So it was a pleasure earlier in the year to receive a second album from the band which seemed to move more into a country mode and was gaining rave reviews. They announced that they would be doing a tour where there are three acts swapping places every night on the bill. What a strange idea, yet it was one that drew my sorry ass into Manchester on a night when one of my favourite acts, Relish was playing at the Night & Day venue in the city. So this better be good...

The Hop & Grape when full to busting can be one hell of a place to see any act, but when it's less than half full, it can seem like the backroom of a pub. Tonight the latter was in evidence.
    Openers Grand Drive are a band I had read about quite a lot but never caught live. They took me by surprise with their alt-country vibe; part Gram Parsons, part Ryan Adams, but for the most part themselves, playing laid back grooves with stories in tow. I made a mental note to go out and buy both of their albums soon. Next up came Delta. Much has been made of this band; the next big thing and all that. I can say that it would help if when they rehearse that they do it in the same room. Perhaps it was an off night. I would be surprised of that.

So at last Witness rolled onto the stage and the venue had filled up to just over half full, yet the band took to their task as if they were playing the Apollo. In a live environment this band really does excel. The mixture of songs from both albums was well balanced and the musicianship was first class. There were many that had come along to the show after reading various reviews and they certainly enjoyed it. Those who had been into the band for some time really gave great support.

Many may argue that the band seems to be bandwagon jumping, yet it seems just as they take a new direction another artist comes and steals their fire. But I do feel that if they get a few more nights like this they will get back the self belief. Speaking to the band pre show they seemed disillusioned with many aspects of their record company, radio airplay, touring etc. They are a very good band who given more time to grow could become a great band, but that belief is being beaten out of them by fantastic reviews not leading to sales. It broke The Velvet Underground and you get the feeling that maybe Witness might not be around for a third album, which is a shame because they do make good records and are very good live.
    So buy the band's records and go see them live, you will enjoy it and the rest of us will get to keep this band alive.

JJ Starr (from www.shakenstir.co.uk)





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