The Mighty Wah!, Aswad, High Five: Peoples Festival, St George’s Hall, Liverpool

“THIS IS the first Liverpool gig I’ve ever enjoyed,” announced Pete Wylie at the end of the set, and it was probably the one that meant the most. Backlash or no backlash, whatever’s been said about Pete Wylie of late you can’t deny that he puts his music where his mouth is.

The Mighty Wah! were the culmination of an all-day “People’s Festival” organised by Merseyside County Council under the banner “A future for Merseyside”: a display of all the good things Merseyside has to offer, for and from its people, and an unashamed — and timely — effort to prove to anyone that needs to be told that Merseyside County Council is a Good Thing. It was a mixture of family entertainment and politics (attractions ranging from a fire-eater to Arthur Scargill), with cheap public transport thrown in to ensure as many of the populace as possible got the benefit — and the message.

The setting for this festivity was St George’s Hall in the city centre, which astute readers will remember as The Bunnymen’s choice for their ‘Crystal Day’ performance. This time, though, the groups played on a stage outside the hall and the audience filled and spilled over the vast St George’s Plateau and across every road in sight. Need an excuse for a street party? Royal offspring have nothing on this civic celebration.

With the rest of the day’s events closing, the three groups took over for the evening, and I’ve never known a rock festival run so smoothly. Perfect timing and even the legendary Liverpool rain kept off except for some ungrateful drizzle to greet The Mighty Wah!

There were three groups and three choices: realism, roots and romance. The hardest task went to the High Five. Notable supporters of causes, they’re “fast becoming the tame municipal house band” as someone observed, and tonight, faced with the crossover audience of stragglers and arrivals, they were tamer than usual. At least, though, it made their message more easily heard.

But though it’s one worth hearing, they don’t deal in easy slogans and no-one seemed inclined to listen to it. The High Five ask questions: all the music tonight’s about taking sides, but they want you to think about the side you’re taking.

Aswad, proclaimed by the roar of the committed, had the benefit of an audience who’d already decided, and seduced the rest with a rhythmic and musical dexterity that’s universally intelligible. Despite being the only non-local band, they created an immediate sense of community and shared struggles through charm and humour.

No-one, though, but Wah! could have closed the event. Surrounded by architectural monuments to one kind of civic pride, beamed on wealth and power, the day’s event was an expression of a new kind of civic pride — an opposition to that kind of establishment — that’s to do with self-belief and self-determination. Pete Wylie’s always been too much of an individual to be any kind of spokesman for a generation, let alone a class war, but the pride and defiance that are always present in his music are part of that belief.

Because Liverpool’s identity is founded on myth — a glamour sustained by faith and larger than the sum of its reality — and The Mighty Wah! too is a myth, who could have provided more suitable musical accompaniment?

The Mighty Wah! were from the start mighty indeed and in more than numbers, though there was a cast of several. They opened with a magnificent, biting reworking of ‘Story Of The Blues’ and worked their way via ‘Better Scream’, ‘Remember’ and a large part of the new LP to ‘Come Back’, every one incisive. And if there was enough dry ice for a Bunnyman gig, well, it was an Event, and if Pete Wylie did get carried away in his dedications, well, everyone else on stage mattered just as much.

And if Pete’s affirmation that Liverpool people are the best in the world seemed like an excessive act of faith, there was nothing sentimental in the ‘Seven Minutes To Midnight’ that came as the first encore. And if the second encore ‘Yuh Learn’ came a bit close to a multitudinous jam (including a great appearance from Frankie’s Brian Nash), its reverberations were much more than “entertainment”: “The will to live, and the fight to survive.”

Three bands, and three ways of saying it. It can be a statement for optimism, and music made it just that.

© Penny KileyMelody Maker, 29 September 1984

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