Ritz is, for me, fast becoming a by-word for nostalgia. An old nightclub in Manchester, it now serves as a concert venue. Last year, I went there to see Sheryl Crow, nineteen years after I first saw her perform. (At the risk of name dropping, again, there is a link to our conversation at the end of this post.)
On the 16th of February, I returned to that very same club again to see Kula Shaker, seventeen years after I first attended one of their gigs. Perhaps it is the lot of artists of a certain vintage to end up in this old spit and sawdust place, but anyhow, I was there to welcome this four piece back to my city.
I first heard Kula Shaker back in the days when I worked, briefly, in a twilight-lit, splinter inflicting warehouse in the mid-nineties. Recklessly driving an order-picking truck down the narrow aisles, a couple of times I heard a particular song being played when I passed by the small radio plugged into a socket outside the office. A little psychedelic, a little out of era, it sounded different. Liking it, I made it my business to discover what it was. Soon I found out that the song was called Tattva, and was by a new band called Kula Shaker. The song was different, Kula Shaker were different.
Different is good. Sometimes.
Eschewing the lad culture of the time, they were a hybrid of sixties/seventies western rock sprinkled with a dose of Indian musical instruments and mysticism-inspired lyrics. They split for a while after a couple of albums and then got back together again.
And now, twenty years after hearing that first record, I was in Manchester with reunion on my mind.
The first port of call was an old, traditional pub situated near The Ritz called The Salisbury. While in there with a friend, I noticed someone stood near the bar holding a Kula Shaker ticket while trying to catch the barman’s eye, and I pointed out that the guy was going to the same concert as we were. A little later, I spotted another man sporting a ticket, and deduced that we were holed up in the ticket touts’ main business establishment.
After a couple of drinks I nipped to the gents, and, whilst doing what a man has to do, read a poster that was positioned directly in front of the urinal. It was proclaiming a pre-gig offer: show your concert ticket and you get a discount on every drink you buy.
We went to the club, and my friend and I met up with a couple of other mates. All four of us had attended that pre-millennium gig, and were all imbued with a similar sense of nostalgia. The Ritz began to fill up. The tallest person you ever laid eyes outside of Middle-Earth decided to stand directly in front of me. Slender, pushing seven foot tall, he had long arms that hung down around his shins. When the music of the support band started up his arms were like a windmill in a hurricane. He could have had an eye out.
Incense burning at the end of the stage, Kula Shaker next emerged to rapturous applause. One of our gang commented on how well the lead vocalist (Crispian Mills) had aged, but the singer did warn us that he wouldn’t be able to jump around as much as he’d like to as he was carrying a fractured rib. But on the more rockier numbers, like Hey Dude and Hush, you wouldn’t have guessed it. He even climbed up on a speaker at one point to jump back down again, all lit by a suitable psychedelic backdrop.
In introducing Peter Pan RIP, Mills said that the song was written in two different places: it was begun in Regents Park, London, and finished in Belgium, and so was a little schizophrenic. In the act of creating, I can relate to that.
He described 303 as a love song to a road. Okay, that would be a first.
As the concert went on, I couldn’t help but think how things have changed, as I looked out over a sea of mobile phones capturing the performance. There were none of these in evidence seventeen years ago.
As the concert came to a close, though, I reflected on how some things were still the same.
For those of you unfamiliar with the group, here is their 1996 song Govinda, the first (and I think only) single to appear in the UK charts sung totally in Sanskrit. The group finished, this night and all those years ago, with this song.
As we poured out onto the cold, Manchester streets, people could be heard humming and singing the lyrics to Govinda. Perhaps hearing people singing these Sanskrit words on the streets of Manchester was not that unusual, though. I once went to a Clapton concert, and he closed with Somewhere Over The Rainbow. Afterwards I can honestly say that it was the first time I’d been in the men’s toilet where men were lined up humming that very tune.
My Sheryl Crow post: