- 15 Feb 20
The 'Grass Are Back On The Field, Let's Play Ball
When some bands get back together after a long stint on the bench, one might – at best – shrug the shoulders and wish them well, but when it was announced that Supergrass were retaking the field, it was cause for rejoicing in the hearts of any right-thinking people. We’re talking here about one of the great bands of the last decade of the last century and the first decade of this one, a band who splashed big with their debut album and then got better. Pick any of those records and you’ll find a lot more wit, verve, and invention than anything by the brothers from Manchester who were taking home all the medals at the time.
I wasn’t the only one excited either, the tickets had flown out the door when the two night stop in the Olympia was announced. I was positioned up the stairs and down the back, and I'm not complaining about it either, that’s the luck of the draw, and I was happy to get in. In early too, as Kilkenny’s The Wha were filling out the card, a much fancied gang of young lads who were possibly still in short trousers when the ‘Grass shut up shop back in 2010. They give a good account of themselves; I could hear a lot of The Libertines – and nothing wrong with that – in songs like ’40 Odd Years’ and the one about the premier league. It was all trebly guitar riffs and trashing drums and lyrics of the vitriolic variety with plenty of shouting and swearing. There was a hint of The Coral in ‘Blue For You’ and my amanuensis for the evening, Ms Callaghan, could discern the influence of Teenage Fanclub. They have potential and promise falling out of their arse pocket and I look forward to catching them at one of their own gigs soon.
The change and the rest seems to have agreed with Supergrass as men who must be nearly my age (hardly! – Ed.) have no business looking and sounding this good. A one two punch with the title track from 1997’s In It For The Money – their masterpiece as far as I’m concerned – and ‘I’d Like To Know’ from their cash register-busting debut. Danny Goffey – did you know his Da used to present Top Gear back when it was about cars rather than just fellas arsing around? – is flailing away behind the kit like a man who needs to finish early in order to catch a bus, Mick Quinn looks impossibly cool in aviator shades on bass, and Rob Coombes is still the band’s hard working secret weapon on keys. Gaz Coombes out the front, meanwhile, is all iconic business in a fetching fedora hat and white shoes that scream “rock star!” As he holds a note on his Gibson during the second song, Callaghan recalls her fancy for him back in the day, redoubled now as the man has aged enviably well.
“’Allo Dublin, alright?” Into ‘Diamond Hoo Ha Men’ – Coombes howling “bite me” over the heavy riff before the lighting rig goes into overdrive for the slide-driven melee of the fake ending/ending There’s a big roar and a crowd sing along for the organ driven bop of ‘Mary’, enthusiastic punters in the seats around us are doing their best to stand up and shake it as Goffey’s snare snaps behind the guitar solo and the meaty, beaty sound calls to mind a more groovy version of The Who.
“How many of you came in couples tonight?” Coombes asks for the Valentine’s Day that’s in it. “Or threesomes!” – Oi, Oi! “Give each other a kiss, you sexy motherfuckers!” He gives it a bit of acoustic-y strum for the slow intro to ‘Moving’ before the organ gurgles up and the big beat comes crashing in, very nearly causing the theatre to take off. His voice is in great nick and his underrated guitar playing is a joy. Coombes switches to a Telecaster for ‘Time’ during which the background projections use the old split mirror effect, and the piano beat of ‘Mansize Rooster’ kicks considerable arse before there’s a bit of respite during the lovely flanged and chorused ‘Fin’.
It is during the magnificent trash and clatter of ‘Richard III’ that Callaghan and myself decide to make a break for it, invited as we were – after some cajoling – into one of the boxes by my showbiz pal Dave Fanning. Once we got in – with thanks to the lovely Olympia staff – the shape throwing took off in earnest and the notes get a bit sketchy. At the time of writing nobody has got their act together to fill out setlist.fm – the rock writer’s friend – so things may not be quite in order, but I hope you get the general idea. Everyone has their favourites but for me it was worth leaving the house just to hear the marvellous ‘Going Out’ which has been cruelly expunged from the current greatest hits collection, although everything sounds great and every song is greeted by the having-a-ball crowd like a prodigal son coming up the drive.
Coombes recalls the recording of the Road To Rouen album in a barn in northern France before a delicate ‘Low C’ prompting Mr Fanning to opine that this is one of those bands whose records got better as they went along and he’s not wrong, although the thrilling ‘Lose It’ and ‘She’s So Loose’ remind all present that they were a great band from the get go. ‘Grace’ is just another of their fantastically good singles but when they throw out ‘Alright’ and more Who-like brilliance with ‘Sun Hits The Sky’ the place goes positively mental as if twelve hundred people just found a winning lotto ticket on the floor.
There’s a blistering run at ‘Lenny’, which pulses with a malevolence that’s as heavy as a truck, and then the riff that Keith Richards missed in ‘Pumping On Your Stereo’ – admit it, it is now playing in your head – a song that is as close to perfect as it’s possible to get with a guitar solo that banishes the last vestiges of decorum from the room. There's a bloke near me in the box who very nearly fell out on to the crowd below, and then my attention is directed to one man in the throng who's embracing his pal with a massive grin, all his troubles forgotten. This is what it's all about.
The encore follows with ‘Caught By The Fuzz’ as the lights flash like a particularly upset panda car, a squelchy ‘Bad Blood’ and the final ‘Strange Ones’ with its deliberate false start and break down to feed back, and a hi-hat-lead guitar solo. It trashes furiously to a close and they’re gone. Fanning’s verdict is “a great band, playing great songs” and what fool could ask for more than that?
It’s all grins in the bar after as local heroes Graham Hopkins, Today FM’s Ed Smith, and Lost Brother Oisin Leech all rightly proclaim the night a triumph. Coombes and Goffey put in an appearance and have the backs slapped off them. Through circumstances that I can’t quite recall, I end up having a pint with them in the Ha’penny Bridge Inn, and the lord only knows what we talked about but they were perfectly charming fellows. If you’re going to see them tonight, count yourselves lucky, and everyone should scramble for tickets to their All Aboard show out in Dun Laoghaire Harbour over the June bank holiday weekend. An impossibly impressive night out, and a very welcome return from one of the great bands. Of any decade.