Hard Fi - Manchester Apollo - 8.5.06

As we walk through the streets of Ardwick passing drug dealers, skag heads and whores what would you imagine to be our soundtrack. The Jam? Maybe with their street smart savvy punk. The Streets? Tales of urban Britain. Happy Mondays? Madchester's finest. What we get actually get is the sound of bagpipes drifting through the air. It almost makes the sound of  The Infadels bearable for 5 minutes, although the interest wains in them when we realize that each and every song sounds exactly the same. But Ardwick, Manchester - if they would have staged the gig inside Strangeways only then would it have been more perfect for the king of chavs Hard Fi!!!

Its been a while since this correspondent last witnessed Hard Fi. In the interim they've released their debut album proper, merely an extension of the mini album we'd heard about 6 months previous, and turned into one of the true bands of the people. Most notably the crowds have changed somewhat from those early gigs. In the early days they were part of what was
dubbed the ska revival alongside The Ordinary Boys and The Dead 60s, you look around tonight's audience and most of them won't have even heard of the Ordinary Boys until Preston stepped into the celebrity Big Brother house. Like the Arctic Monkeys and Oasis, Hard Fi appear to a large demographic of people that wouldn't normally go to gigs.

While all the set pieces are in place from the early gigs with the set list pretty much remaining the same as it was on day one despite the 7th million single released from that one debut album, but it's the new songs we're interested in tonight. "You And Me" is a bass driven "Eton Rifles" esque opener with a falsetto pop chorus reminiscent of Aha before a dub breakdown. It's Hard-Fi taken apart and segmented into 3 easy chunks, 3 huge slabs of rock. It bodes well for the new album, but unfortunately the other new track aired tonight is that forgettable that 5 minutes later Designer Magazine cant even remember what it was called. Whether this is an indication that the band could be heading for patchy second album syndrome remains to be seen, but with half of Richard Archers songs coming from an unreleased album of his old band Contempo you get the sense that he's not the most prolific of writers.

Of the old songs the twin beast of "Middle Eastern Holiday" and "Gotta Reason" provide a taught start to the set with the former flashing up the sort of war imagery the Manic's could only dream of. "Tied Up Too Tight" and "Better Do Better" follow as does the cover of The White Stripes "7 Nation Army" which was originally dubbed up by the Dead 60s before Hard Fi took it on as their own anthem. "Cash Machine" which this correspondent perhaps subliminally wrote down as Clash machine, is now a working class anthem up there with "Rock N ROll Star" by Oasis.

Amongst the likes of "Hard To Beat" and "Living For The Weekend" is easy to forget the politics that Hard-Fi stand up for. Although "Stars Of CCTV" starts off sounding like a dull Stereophonics ballad by the end of it it's a full on Billy Bragg football chant chorus. Amongst all the bands in the UK sucking corporate c**k and not speaking out on any real issues, it's worth noting that Hard Fi demand a tremendous amount of respect for playing numerous Love Music Hate Racism events over the past 12 months and playing the recent concert in London to awaken peoples mind to what the BNP are really trying to achieve in these local elections.

Hard Fi work on so many different levels from just a band of the people who write great alternative pop tunes to a band with a real political underbelly waiting to break out. As a live band tonight proved that they can still cut it on the big stage as they did in the early days when they were right in peoples faces. The only thing they must do now is make sure the second album lives up to the first, in their own words better do better!!!

Alex McCann
Photos: Shirlaine Forrest www.shirlainephotos.co.uk

Click here to leave your Hard Fi comments on the Message Board
(NB: The message board opens in a new window so please disable your pop-up blocker to view)