The Courteeners ended 2009 by playing the biggest gig of their career to date. The gig, at Manchester Central (formerly G Mex), planned earlier in the year was a brave gesture from a band with just one album to their name but when all 10,000 tickets sold out in just five days it was clear that their fans were still with them. The night was a triumph and will surely be remembered as one of the highlights of the year. Coming on with the kind of confidence we have come to expect from the band's songwriter and frontman, Liam Fray launched into the set with a track from the band's soon to be released album, 'Falcon' and the venue erupted. One journalist was moved to comment, "...giant cheers from a boisterous throng in a mood of utter jubilation. As they end this decade as unarguably Manchester's biggest going concern, The Courteeners look set to spend the next one as one of Britain's most important rock & roll bands."
'Falcon', will follow April 2008's Top 5 album 'St Jude' and marks a huge leap forward for the Manchester four-piece. It is one of the most accomplished albums you'll hear from anyone this year. Written and demo-ed in Manchester's Airtight studios, recorded in Belgium's ICP Studios with producer Ed Buller - of Suede, Pulp and White Lies fame - over seven weeks and mixed at Electric Lady Studios in New York with Michael Brauer, it's a truly beautiful record, one that isn't afraid to wear its author's heart on its sleeve both lyrically and musically; think the panoramic, soaring soundscape of Elbow, the emotion, solace and romance of The Verve and the down to earth honesty and sensitivity of Morrissey. This record is that good.
It's no surprise really because Liam knows his music history. He was raised on The Beatles, Motown and the girl group sounds of The Ronettes and The Shangri-Las; later he raided his older sister's collection for New Order and The Smiths - both Morrissey and Johnny Marr are fans. Morrissey invited the group to support him on tour in March and April this year while Johnny Marr heaped praise on Liam when he supported The Cribs in Manchester at an XFM show earlier this month. "It was amazing finding out they like our stuff," says Liam. "I got my first guitar when I was 13, I started by trying to learn The Smiths songbook but it was way too difficult, so when that wasn't happening I tried the easy Beatles songs, and bits of Blur, Suede and Oasis." It was The Strokes and hearing 2001's 'Is This It' though which made Liam think, "That's what I want to do, they looked good, they sounded good. They were the benchmark. I just loved the idea of being in a band, I used to write lyrics down and I started turning them into songs when I was 15, 16. I did my first gig shortly after, just me and an acoustic guitar in a pub, and it snowballed. Word of mouth travelled fast, by 18 I was starting to take it really seriously, that I could make a living from doing this. I'd be playing all my own stuff, songs like 'What Took You So Long' and 'Cavorting' which ended up on the first record."
The son of teachers, Liam wrote both songs while working in Manchester's Fred Perry clothes shop. "The shop was up a side street, it had a dead friendly atmosphere, everyone got on really well, I'd be writing songs in there all day; listening to The Smiths, The Strokes, Motown and jotting down lyrics when they came to me. I wrote the words to 'Cavorting' on the back of a Fred Perry compliment slip, and I'd be listening to the records and it would be like, I love that drum beat, I'll nick that and I'd jot down the timing of it and go home and try the part out on a drum kit I'd bought for £60."
It was at that point he decided to form a band. And he looked to his pals for help. First he got in Michael Campbell, the drummer, then came Conan Moores on guitar and Mark Cuppello on bass and as The Courteeners, they played their first gig at Manchester's Roadhouse in October 2006.
"Things moved pretty quickly," says Liam. An early gig at the Night And Day caf'e in Manchester was pivotal. "We were down to support Blood Red Shoes that night but they pulled out and we were left as the headliners. Everyone had been told the gig had been cancelled as the headliners had pulled out so we were feeling kind of downhearted. When we turned up at the venue at to play there were 100 people outside waiting in a line who couldn't get in because it was sold out. We were like, 'what you're here to see us?' We couldn't believe it. That was when I thought, let's do this thing properly. Up until then it was an excuse to go out and have fun, but now it was like, this is what I'm doing. I dropped out of university then."
Singles 'Cavorting', released in August 2007 and 'Acrylic' released in October 2007 captured the group's raw, jagged live sound." What was good about not having been in a band that long, was that we were very raw, we weren't calculated at all, it was never a case of 'how are we going to make the song more interesting?', it was just, if we enjoy playing it, we'll do it, and it was loud and abrasive and quite aggressive in parts, because that's how we were playing. We rehearsed in our garage, we didn't have a PA so I'd shout the lyrics. The songs were short, sharp, and snappy, they had a passion, and we knew we were doing it right because we could see the effect we had on our fans, they'd be at the front of our gigs, getting squashed, but still singing along to all the words."
Next came their debut album 'St Jude', produced by Stephen Street, and sleeved in artwork by Liam himself. "With the singles, it was just an amazing feeling to know you had a record out there in the shops that people could go and buy what we'd done, we were chuffed, but when Stephen Street approached us to produce our album, that was mad. Working with him was great and I can't say enough nice things about him,"
Hitting Number 4 on the strength of songs such as the energetic, 'Not Nineteen Forever', 'What Took You So Long', 'No You Didn't, No You Don't', and reaching gold status, the album was also awarded The Guardian's inaugural British Album Award.
Talking about the new album, Liam is clearly proud of the results. And so he should be. From 'The Opener', his love letter to Manchester, written in the Grafton Hotel on Sunset Boulevard on the last day of the Morrissey tour when he was packing his bags for home to 'Scratch Your Name Upon My Lips', which is "really just me missing the missus" and the candid articulation of male emotion on 'Take Over The World' and 'The Rest Of The World Has Gone Home', he writes intelligently with a tenderness and wit. On 'You Overdid It Doll', he gently admonishes his friend's over excesses, meanwhile, 'Will It Be This Way Forever?' is a romantic tale of "toasting stale teacakes out the cupboards and nights in watching a film on the telly with a cheap bottle of wine, and watching the sunset at six in the morning sat on a wall when we didn't have any money, didn't have anything really." It's on the poignant 'Cameo Brooch', though, that you realise his astonishing lyrical talent and empathy. "With your father's bruise on your arm, telling me it's no cause for alarm, stop pushing people away, you can't live your life this way," he sings. "I don't want to say it's a northern thing, because it isn't really, but there is that realism, that kitchen sink quality to my lyrics," he says, "because if we're going into a studio to make a record and we expect people to pay for our record then it has to mean something, it has to say something important and it has to be honest."
As for the album's title 'Falcon', "we were in America, looking out the back of the tour bus, and we saw this falcon, which started to follow the bus, and it was one of the most breathtaking sights, and as it swooped it was so beautiful and also slightly arrogant and as it rested on this rock, I was looking at it and it just seemed to sum us up. The falcon was going to take this amazing path, this amazing journey in flight and that's how we feel with this record. We're about to take off, we're stretching our wings for pastures new, the time is right."
We know you'll agree.