In May 1999 Glaswegian band Travis released their second album, The Man Who. Just prior to its release the albumwas regarded by their record company (Independiente Records) as too downbeat and potentially ‘not commercial enough’ after their promising debut in ‘97, Good Feeling. Nearly twenty years and over 2.6 million (UK) sales later, Travis are back on tour revisiting The Man Who by performing it in its entirety. On the back of this commercial success, the Corn Exchange was as busy as I’ve ever experienced it – and on a freezing Thursday night leading up to Christmas. It was one of those gigs that, if you moved from your spot, you’d lose it. Simple as. A veritable cross section of fans had turned out to revisit a band whose arrival on the post-Britpop music scene earned them the sobriquet, in some quarters, of ‘the people’s band’.
On stage, it was reassuring to see the familiar silhouettes of the band’s original four members. This was the ’99 line-up playing the songs, so there was no messing with the formula. And before they launch into their opening number, singer Fran Healy makes it very clear that the band aren’t going to try to reinterpret the songs in any way – that they are going to stay true to the original album – cue a collective sigh of relief from most of the crowd. And this they did, in their inimitably melodic, emotionally affecting and musical way. There was something captivating (and reassuring) about hearing the familiar count in to ‘Writing To Reach You’: Healey’s phased Telecaster strum; Neil Primrose’s delicate drum intro; and the way the fluid Fender bass and jangling Les Paul guitar led into “Everyday I wake up and it’s Sunday…”.
By the fourth song, ‘Driftwood’, the gig tangibly shifts up a gear. The irresistible middle section that goes “And you really didn’t think it would happen…” sees bassist Dougie Payne breaking into a big grin as he looks out at the audience who are nodding approvingly and mouthing along to every word. It won’t be the last ‘Dougie grin’ we see tonight. Healy, meanwhile, plays the perfect raconteur with his amusing anecdotes about the songs, their genesis and how the album originally came together. He even includes a particularly memorable story about playing the song ‘Luv’ to Liam Gallagher backstage in the late ’90s during the band’s tour with Oasis. After just over 45 minutes, and true to their word, Travis sign off The Man Who faithfully with the mellow ‘Slide Show’ leading into the hidden track ‘Blue Flashing Light’.
During the encores (a plethora of other ‘hits’) Healy goes on to explain a little bit about the band’s recent history, and how crucial it is that new bands in the UK (and elsewhere) should be encouraged to form, to develop, and be given the opportunity to do just what Travis did, starting with that ‘acoustic guitar in the bedroom’ scenario. Irritating then that dozens of people around me at the back of the venue missed the opportunity to hear what Healy was saying by chattering through his ‘talky bit’. Maybe these people don’t get out much. What a shame.
The second half of the set Travis saw dip generously into material other than The Man Who. Personal highlights included the joyous ‘My Eyes’ and the affecting ‘Closer’ from the The Boy With No Name, as well as some standout tracks from Good Feeling and The Invisible Band. Andy Dunlop’s beatific banjo-like picking on the rousing final song of the night ‘Sing’ was a sumptuous sound that led into the chorus, crowning a truly memorable gig. This was despite a slight ‘mudiness’ to the overall sound – not uncommon at the Corn Exchange. The songs from The Man Who have been described as deeply personal and irresistibly inclusive – and that’s how they felt tonight. Where else would you get romantic couples reliving their honeymoons in their heads, gaggles of young(ish) girls swaying gently, stag party reunions fist punching the air, in the same few feet of floorspace?
Travis may not have set out to change the world with their melancholy songs and soaring choruses, but they certainly touched a few hearts – and isn’t that the same thing in the end? Tonight, Travis are still the people’s band who communicate something deeper than mere rhetoric. And, in their own words, “Life is both a major and minor key, just open up the chord…”. Indeed.
Words by Chris Williams