The last time I had been lucky enough to see the Stereophonics was back in 2002 at V Festival during a warm and sunny summer! I had thought they were fantastic then, so was quietly excited to see how the band had grown over the past two decades. Back then, they were just breaking through and getting their first headline slots, whereas now they have 11 albums behind them and are currently touring off the back of their latest hitting number 1 in the album charts. No mean feat! This gig was off the back of sell out arena dates at Sheffield and Birmingham, which had treated their fans to a tour through their entire back catalogue, form the first songs starting out, to their latest tracks off their new album.
There is an undeniable warmth about Kelly Jones, which just wraps you up with a feeling that he is as genuine and caring as he comes across, mixed with a real gratitude that he appreciates where he is and recognises the part his fans have played in getting him there. From the offset, there was n instant rapport with the crowd, exchanging laughs and smiles, which was just as well as the start of the set had to be restarted, due to a key and tempo mistake for their first song, ‘C’est la Vie!’ The whole band laughed it off perfectly, breaking the ice and removing the tension, which allowed them to get on with what they do best. The crowd are instantly captivated, as Kelly takes full advantage of the runway to really get up close with the fans. After their second track, ‘I Wanna Get Lost With You,’ Kelly pauses things and allows us an insight into his thoughts, plans and inspirations, before getting straight back into he music with ‘Bust This Town,’ from their latest album, Kind.
However, it’s not until they start to reach through to their back catalogue that the place really gets going, with back to back classics Maybe Tomorrow, Have A Nice Day and then ‘Mr Writer.’ Kelly sings the last with such passion, that you can’t help but wonder just what went on to be able to produce such guttural vocals. The crowd are also getting into their stride now, with the whole crowd singing along at the top of their lungs. This was one of those moments where the hairs on the back of your neck had no choice but stand up, as you could see into the most personal facets of someone’s existence.
The lights fade down after the explosive finish to ‘Mr Writer,’ but come up to focus upon Kelly with his guitar in the middle of the stage. He then takes to the front of the runway, where the rest of the band are waiting for him. He sings the first part of ‘I Wouldn’t Believe Your Radio’ in a beautiful acoustic way, before the rest of the band join him to cover some of the original classics from the band, which the crowd absolutely love. ‘Local Boy In A Photograph’ is followed by ‘A Thousand Trees,’ with the band really coming together to showcase just how much more polished a band they are to where they were when they first started out. Richard Jones (bass) and Adam Zinardi (guitar) are delivering a masterclass with how they are playing their instruments, really bringing the songs to life, while Jamie Morrison (drums) provides the backbone to them while adding so much depth.
Again, Kelly slows things down to give us an insight into how ‘Traffic’ came about, with another great anecdote about their touring days. This is followed with a mixture of songs old and new, with some of the highlights being the phenomenal drum solo from ‘Mr And Mrs Smith’ and Kelly’s jaw dropping guitar solo during ‘Superman.’ We are then treated to one of their most recent offerings ‘Don’t Let The Devil Take Another Day,’ which gestures toward the direction that they want their music to take them in the future. By the reaction it got from the crowd, it is one which should guarantee them another twenty years of followers!
As had been the theme for the night, Kelly let us into his private life further. But regaling us with more stories from the archives, this time about Mike D’Abo thanking them for covering his ‘Handbags And Gladrags,’ as it had meant he could get a new conservatory as opposed to just a new patio! After the upbeat nature of the song, things were quietened down completely, as Kelly made a heartfelt and moving tribute to their original drummer and extremely close friend, Stuart Cable. You could tell that although he was no longer with us, he would always be missed and you could feel the pain in his voice as he sung ‘Before Anyone Knew Our Name’ in a tribute to Stuart. The pace is changed up amazingly again, with the band coming together to belt out ‘Sunny and Bartender And The Thief,’ complete with mesmerising solos, which brought the set to a dramatic close.
It wasn’t long before the whoops and applause brought the band back out for their encore, especially as you knew there was more to come. Kelly brings all the crowd’s attention back to him, as he plays ‘Elevators’ on a ukulele given to him by one of the band members. After the relative calm of this, the crowd are whipped back up into a sing along frenzy, with one of the classic anthems of ‘Just Looking,’ then letting us into a little story about being on tour with David Bowie, before finishing off with probably their best known song ‘Dakota.’ The energy that they had right down to the last note, was reflected by the crowd singing back with all their hearts.
As I was walking out of the venue, you couldn’t help but think that although they have been around for a couple of decades, their music is still as good as it ever has been. You had a real feeling of reassurance and warmth which come directly from Kelly and the band, as you feel so much more than just someone going to a gig, but someone who they truly care about and value. Their old songs still sound amazing and their new ones are just as great, although they are, unsurprisingly, going in a slightly different direction from where they started. I have a feeling that these guys are going to be around for at least the same amount of time to come, which I think is all the better for it.