Feel The Noise 2002 - M.E.N. Arena - 19.7.02

Every time a pop carnival rolls into Manchester the sun is shining, metaphorically of course because those people who live in Manchester knows the sun only shows it's face two times a year, but taking a look round the kids faces in tonight's audience it's like their dreams have unfolded before them. This is the here and now generation, the generation that has everything on tap, everything at it's fingertips and wants for nothing. Expect of course the bigger games console and the better pair of trainers and the McHappy meal gone large. See, childhood is exactly the same for every generation and what brings each generation together is the simple art of music.

Feel The Noise brings that music Pied Piper style to each of the major cities around the country and tonight it's a Mancunian meander through the world of popular music. Beverley Knight, who kicks off the show tonight, is somewhat of an abnormality amongst the fresh faced pop kids and yet somehow "ShouldaWouldaCoulda" showcases just how far Knight has come over the past 12 months. Once a struggling black soul artist struggling to make herself heard. Now the female face of multi-cultural urban Britain. Likewise Toploader fly the flag for the acceptable face of British Guitar music and stripped down to their new single "Time Of Your Life" and Dancing in the Moonlight" I find myself warming to slightly irritating soundtrack to Jamie Oliver and a well known supermarket that doesn't need any extra advertising.

The first real highlight of the night comes in the form of the 10 strong Blazin' Squad. The kiddies of UK Garage to So Solid Crew's big daddies they deliver the sweet saccharine sounds of "Crossroad's", a cover of the Bone Thugs and Harmony song, with added North London MC flow. So Solid represent themselves first with Romeo backed by the So Solid ladies Lisa Mafia, Tigeress and Thug Angel on "Romeo Dunn" and later with Harvey on "Get Up And Move". Admittedly they're not a patch on Asher D's solo single, but a wink, a nudge and a body like Harvey's can get you anywhere which is why all the girls in the audience not only want to MC like Misteeq's Alesha (Harvey's lady), but actually want to be Alesha right now.

Away from the rough and tumble of UK Garage the ladies do their best to best to add a bit of sweetness and light. On one hand we have former lesbian gangster Lindsey Corkhill from Brookside aka Claire Sweeney doing her cruise liner social club operatics - first on a camp disco tune of "I Wanna Dance" and then on the power ballad "If You Believe". It's all a bit Jane McDonald for my liking, but beware as it's the first of many ex-Brookside stars to launch soap careers with rumours that blonde bombshell Jennifer Ellison and her on-screen brother in law to be Jerome releasing singles within the next few months. If a bit of scouse isn't your thing then our beautiful Mancunian sister Sarah Whatmore shows that whatever Kylie and Britney can do - us Mancs can do it better. Famous for being knocked out of Pop Idol Final 50, despite the fact that she had more star potential that any of the final 10 (with the obvious exception of the lovely Gareth Gates), she is finding her own feet with the debut single "When I Lost You" - the sort of "Can't Get You Outta My Head" dance-pop crossover tune that cemented Kylie's fortunes and if this girl isn't an international superstar within 12 months then the only person to blame with be Simon Cowell.

In the world of fresh faced pop though it's a journey of highs and lows, splitting the wheat from the chaff as to who will be next years pop heroes. So while we have D Mac's scottish urban chic on "The World She Knows", Natural's boy band with guitars on "Put Your Arms Around Me" and Darius' inevitable cheese on "Colour Blind" it's placed side by side with the mutton dressed as lamb of Roberta Childs, the lamb singing like Dolly Parton of Lauren Waterworth who aged at about 14 surely couldn't have coped with an audience literally running from their seats and the cover of "Like A Prayer" by Madhouse who aren't Madonna, which basically says it all.

After a serious moment from Liberty X who ask us all to donate money to help Robyn Brooks (you can of course dig deep and donate online at www.robynbrooks.co.uk), it's time for the main attraction Gareth Gates. A man (Ed: Now officially a man, not a boy after his 18th birthday last week) of very few words yet still creating the sort of hysteria not seen since Elvis and the Beatles. A deafening roar of teenage dreams screams across the whole arena reaching the tender ears of the new messiah, who cranks the amps up to 11 and competes with Ozzy Osborne for sheer volume. Except blaring out of the speakers at 11 is a lush cover version of "Unchained Melody", which in it's live setting shows off the maturing vocal chords of the Pop Idol runner up and while he may not have the versatility of Will Young, he certainly has the impassioned fragility of all great pop stars. Just one listen to "Anyone Of Us", a song which takes in the last 3 decades of pop music fusing together Abba and Nik Kershaw with the production style of the Backstreet Boys in a totally contemporary pop sheen confirms this. As he leaves the stage with the words "I Love You" a nation swoons and we all hope that one day we can be Mrs Gareth Gates, blokes included.

If that didn't feel like the ultimate climax then it's a somewhat bizarre choice to try and follow it with Stargate who are terrible despite the fact they inject a little rock & roll with a sole chant of come on Motherf**kers. I'm normally partial to a bit of blue for the dads, but come on there's a time and a place...and following the cute pop of Gareth Gates just wasn't it. A run through left field pop foolery like "Freak Like Me" and new single "Round Round" by the Sugababes is exactly what we all need in our life's, but like Kosheen who close the show they suffer in the hands of gods when the audience leaves filled with their pop sounds for the night.

We saw. He came. He conquered. The icon that is Gareth Gates has taken on a life of it's own which is above music, above tabloid culture and above a teenage crush. The guy genuinely spreads love and peace though out the world and when we next face nuclear weapons on the front-line simply send over Gareth Gates on a peace mission. He's man of very few words, but when he does find the courage to speak it will be revolutionary. But although it certainly doesn't feel like it, Feel The Noise isn't just about one artist or star - it's about bringing pop to the masses and while each year the names will change the tour still lives on.

Alex McCann

Post your own Feel the Noise 2002 reviews / comments on our Message Board