A solo outing for the Manics’ James Dean Bradfield in a legendary Camden venue.
My one abiding memory of October 2006 is that it was unusually hot, and that the heat was slightly unsettling. In my diary, after a string of blistering days, I noted:
‘The unseasonable heat is lovely to be sure but I can’t shake this niggly feeling that there’s something terribly wrong about it and we’re all going to pay for it later. Or maybe that’s just Global Warming paranoia.’
However I was at least able to take advantage of the unexpectedly summery October by having many nights out with friends. The remnants of the hectic social life I’d developed in 2004 were still with me, mainly in the form of a regular Thursday night jaunt to the pub with a gang of mates from the hospital where I worked. The Thursday of this gig was no exception, and so, after a few drinks with the lads, I set off from the Chelsea pub at 8pm to make my way to Camden.
In 2006 the Manics were taking a bit of a break from band activities so that James and Nicky could release solo albums. James’s “The Great Western” had been released in July, and though I’d enjoyed it a lot, it did lack a little bit of the excitement that comes with a new Manics album. Still, it was good enough to entice me to go and see him at this solo show at KoKo.
This was my first time going to a gig at this legendary venue, which I’d spent my teen years reading about in the music press, the former Camden Palace. I was immediately impressed upon entering the building.
‘Was at KoKo by about ten to nine and what a groovy venue it is, all decadent chandeliers and huge glowing red wall behind the bar and lots of mirror balls.’
James came on at about 9.30 and I reported that he was ‘very solid and good‘. That sounds like faint praise from me, considering James is someone I would usually hyperventilate about when I wrote about Manics gigs, and perhaps the lack of the other boys made it less of an exciting night for me.
‘I couldn’t help but start to yearn for a proper Manics gig, especially when he played tunes like ‘From Despair To Where’ and ‘No Surface All Feeling’ and, like summer in October, there was just something Not Quite Right about James playing those tunes with a bunch of guys who were not Nicky and Sean. Fab though it all sounded.’
However, much as I missed the other Manics, it was still a great night with a couple of outstanding highlights.
‘Best part of the gig for me was James’s acoustic snippet of ‘A Design For Life’ (huge singalong, naturally) followed by the best track from his solo album, ‘Still A Long Way To Go’ which was moving and epic in a contained sort of way.’
And that is, unfortunately, all I wrote down about James’s performance. However, the night had one more surprise in store for me as I found myself unexpectedly greeting a friend as I made my way out of the venue.
‘As I was climbing the stairs to the exit who should I spot but long lost fellow Manics/Bowie obsessive Kathryn, last seen at the Isle of Wight fest of 2004? I grabbed her attention and we chatted merrily outside the venue and on the tube.’
So that was it for this gig. As for “The Great Western”, I must admit I hardly gave it another spin after 2006. I did revisit it in 2020 in the run-up to James’s second solo album, and found it to be surprisingly great. And I would definitely have headed out to see James in a solo show if he’d been able to tour last year’s “Even In Exile”. But I can’t deny that I much prefer to see James belting out the Manics classics at the front of a stage, Nicky to one side, Sean behind him. And happily I would only have to wait until the following May, when the Manics toured their new album “Send Away The Tigers”, before I got to see James in his proper place again.