The Dropkick Murphys coming to town is always something of a special occasion. Firstly, I like them a lot and have never failed to enjoy their gigs.  Secondly, I am guaranteed to bump into literally dozens of people I know from the music scene: it makes for an almighty piss up.

Being a shy, reserved character, I planned to enjoy the day quietly, taking careful notes to preserve the memory for posterity.  At 10.30am I called OMD to wish him all the best for the gig he was promoting in Bolton.  For some reason, he seemed a bit wound up – I put it down to him being from Wigan.

At 12.30 the first of my cronies arrived to begin the day’s libations.  Two cans of ‘DAB’ apiece were supped in the house, followed by two bottles of Lancaster Bomber on the train to Wigan.  The twenty minute interval until the connecting train allowed time for a swift beer in the Swan and Railway – rumours that I had a gin and tonic are completely untrue – and to call into an off licence…which provided two bottles of Hoegaarden for the train to Manchester.

We then strolled to the Crown & Cushion for a pint of Holt’s bitter, before moving on to The Marble for a Paulaner Hefe’ Weiss and a Manchester Bitter.  At that point I began to notice that some of the group were looking tad tipsy.  Appalled, I reminded them that we were actually heading for a gig and that it was their bounden duty to remain in control of their faculties – for another hour, at least.  Taxi ahoy!

The pre-gig build up started in earnest in The Grand Central, where we joined up with a larger group of boozy gig goers - and my Dad, who although certainly a gig goer, would never approve of me referring to him as boozy!  Several more beers were consumed, and it was around then that I began to feel strangely giddy.  One subsequent report said that I had the ‘thousand yard stare’ at that point – a scurrilous allegation, I declare. 

We weaved our wavy way down Oxford Road to the venue, saying boisterous hellos to various sundry passers by on the way.  Note carefully: I swear that old dear was ill before we spoke to her, and she has since made a full recovery, according to the M.E.N.  It was lucky that the homeless bloke broke her fall.

Anyway, upon arrival at the venue we made our first major discovery of the evening: the toilets had been relocated to Fallowfield, to be reached only by a long and arduous journey out of the side door and then through an apparently endless crowd of loitering punks.  Trips took up to half an hour, partly due to the sheer distance involved, partly due to having to stop to talk to various friends and acquaintances every ten yards on the way.  It made for a great social event but detracted somewhat from appreciation of the bands.  My Dad argued that my being ‘bloody plastered’ detracted rather more from my appreciation of the bands, but on the contrary, it merely enhanced it.  Harrumph!

Ah yes, the bands – first up were The Briggs.  The only time I had watched this lot was at Wasted 2005 in Morecambe; their catchy gang choruses made a good impression on me then, and I’m pleased to say they have improved still further over the past three years.  Their gritty delivery and frequent touring with Boston bands (Flogging Molly and Street Dogs in particular) has a tendency to make me forget they are actually from California.  They held the crowd’s attention much more than most opening acts, their great credit.  The songs from the 'Back to Higher Ground' album worked particularly well, and I couldn’t find fault with anything the band did.  A big thumbs up to the Dropkick Murphys for being confident enough to put them on the show.

Next up were The Mad Caddies.  I’m afraid that my memory of their set is rather sketchy, as I’d hit the cider by that point and spent at least twenty minutes on a trip to the gents / social expedition to Fallowfield.  I have watched the band six or seven times over the last few years and their energy has always impressed me.  They didn’t disappoint, and generated a mass skankathon down at the front. 

Excitement – and cider – was in the air as the time for the Dropkick Murphys to take the stage approached.  A hasty dash to the gents (again) revealed that some people seemed more interested in standing outside chatting than watching the start of the set, but whether that is to do with apathy or the smoking ban is an open question.  Back inside, the traditional chants of ‘let’s go Murphys!’ rang out as the eerie Celtic folk music drifted from the P.A. 

When the band crashed into their opening song, the first thing that stuck me (well, second, after my mate’s elbow) was how bad the sound was.  The intro music had been crystal clear, yet the Dropkicks sounded a blurred mess.  I know that their multi-instrumental blend poses more challenges for sound engineers than more traditional punk line-ups, but this was poor.  Unfortunately, it didn’t improve much as the night went on. 

Unperturbed by the dodgy sound, the band battered out crowd pleaser after crowd pleaser, generating a powerful atmosphere in the process.  Being at the front for a Dropkicks gig is similar to being in the crowd at major football match – but with only one team playing.  They are amongst the best in the world at dissolving the barriers between crowd and team – I mean band – and they genuinely do seem to feel at one with their punters.

The set featured a healthy dose of songs from their new album ‘The Meanest of Times’, with ‘Flannigan’s Ball’ a particular highlight.  As a big Thin Lizzy fan, you might expect me to like their cover of ‘Jailbreak’, but you’d be wrong.  It was rather a treat to be stood on the edge of the pit during the song with my Dad though, as he got me into music in the first place through listening to Thin Lizzy – despite the dodgy cover, it was quite a moment.  He says he was holding me up by then – but my Mum says he has been holding her up for decades, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.  

As is now traditional, the set reached a climax with a prolonged pitch – I mean stage – invasion, starting during ‘The Spicy McHaggis Jig’.  A fair crowd of comely wenches (and few less blessed) clambered aboard and cavorted their way through the touching tale of short term love.  In short order an even bigger crowd of drunken blokes joined them on stage, obscuring most of the band from view.  I partook, along with two or three cronies, joining in the backing vocals for ‘Skinhead on the MBTA’ and hogging a mic for myself for the cracking cover of the Gang Green classic ‘Alcohol’.  
It was a fitting end to an alcohol fuelled night.  The Dropkick Murphys might have attracted criticism for honing a more commercial sound over the last few years, but they can still generate one of the best party atmospheres on the punk scene.  On this form, I wouldn’t miss it for a gold pig. 

Now, where did I put that Alka Seltzer?

review by Ste ( (10 February 2008)