published: 23 /
Denzil Watson watches indie guitar act Little Man Tate make a triumphant return after a twelve year absence across two nights at the Sheffield O2 Arena.
If timing is everything, Sheffield's Little Man Tate must have thought the Gods were against them. Back in January 2020, almost out of the blue, the band announced a comeback gig in May at the Sheffield O2 Arena, the venue they signed off at back in October 2009. After it swiftly sold out, they announced a second night which also duly sold out too. Then cue Coronavirus causing the gigs’ cancellations and the subsequent rearranged dates for September 2020 too. Was it a case of being third time lucky?
A little bit of the back-story first. Little Man Tate first came to prominence back in 2006 as part of the Sheffield-centric Nu-Yorkshire scene, along with the likes of Milburn, Reverend and the Makers, Bromhead's Jacket, and, of course, Arctic Monkeys. After their early demos had done the rounds on the internet, and their self-financed debut single 'The Agent' had quickly sold out its 1,800 pressing, the band were snapped up by Richard Branson’s V2 label. Their dual-guitar indie stylings drew comparisons to the likes of The Libertines while their cheeky lyrical vignettes were akin to a 'Carry On' film script. A string of catchy and melodic singles bothered the lower reaches of the Top 30 and by the time their debut album 'About What You Know' hit the racks in 2008, their hedonistic live shows were selling out up and down the UK. After that, things started to slowly slide. Universal took over V2 who dropped them and, having signed to the Brighton-based label Skint, their second album 'Nothing Worth Having Comes Easy' saw them move away from their initial sound. With the writing on the wall, the band announced two farewell shows and duly split up. Front man Jon Windle carried on with a solo career but after two albums turned his back on music.
Enough history. Tonight is about the here and the now and two sold-out shows at Sheffield O2. Both nights the band opt to play the same set and both nights they play a stormer. The only differentiator between the two is a slightly clearer, sharper sound on the second night. Time has been kind to the band, and they are still looking lean and hungry. So much so that bassist Ben Surtees even looks like he was cryogenically frozen after the last gig and then revived for the gigs. After a lengthy intro, they shuffle on stage to the strains of 'Sherriff Fatman' by Carter USM and crank up 'Man. I Hate Your Band'. Predictably the place goes bananas as they play with a swagger and the self-belief of a band that hasn't been away for over a decade. The twenty-song set list leaves none of the fans disappointed and is a masterclass in catchy, melodic guitar-driven indie rock, a million miles from the ‘landfill indie’ label some of the critics cruelly and unfairly applied to them. Leaning more heavily on their earlier songs and first album rather than their second album, two of the set's high points are the first tracks they ever released. The driving guitars of 'The Agent' and the tongue-in-cheek sentimentality of 'Just Can't Take It', perfectly demonstrating the band's appeal; lyrical hooks and catchy melodies. It also shows that the band's songwriting acumen was there right from the off. Lead guitarist Edward "Maz" Marriot delivers the guitar solos with consummate easy, bringing to mind Johnny Marr, while drummer Dan Fields holds it all down at the back behind the drum kit, keeping the Little Man Tate juggernaut on the road. But it's Jon Windle who is the focal point as he plays with a smile on his face from start to finish, strumming his guitar, gesticulating with his arms and, intermittently, leading the crowd in chants of "Yorkshire! Yorkshire!".
From start to finish, it's a triumphant return. There's even a new song on show, the barbed and bittersweet 'Cheap Stolen Kisses', indicating that this is not just a nostalgia trip and that there's more to come in the future. It's hard to tell who is enjoying themselves the most: the band or the audience. The biggest cheer of the night is reserved for 'Sexy in Latin' as the years roll back to everyone's school days, but it's the preceding song that tops it all for me. 'She Looked Like Audrey Hepburn', the single that never was from 'Nothing Worth Having Comes Easy', has it all in spades. After Jon ditches his guitar for the raucous and X-rated set closer 'Down On Marie' they leave the stage, although we all know they’ll be coming back and return they do, for a final four-song salvo. Little Man Tate have always understood the importance of dynamic and start slowly with the acoustic sentimentality of 'You and Me Might Be Alright' and then slowly build things up. 'What? What You Got', worthy alone for Ben's saucy 'Something for the Weekend?' backing line, brings further mayhem. No prizes for guessing the last song. 'House Party at Boothy's' literally brings the house down and closes their hedonistic and raucous set. Whether they'll be back remains to be seen. Based on the last two nights, though, they'd be daft not to, as that something special is very much still there.
Photos by Denzil Watson
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