Last Bus from Ashton: The Night I Saw Jeff Lynne’s ELO

The Mother of All Memorable Concerts at Manchester Arena, 10 April 2016

The rave reviews of their Manchester gig were well deserved. Surpassing my previous all time #1 gig (Roger Hodgson, 29 May 2013, Bridgewater Hall) and my last trip to Manchester Arena (Peter Kay’s Comic Relief gig), Jeff Lynne and Co. more than exceeded my expectations. By several notches.

His presence (and a fantastic Christmas present off my sister, shared with my father) was our reason for missing Tintwistle Band at the Boarshurst Band Club. To say “amazing” was quite an understatement.

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Act 1: “…A sound that flows in to my mind (the echoes of the daylight)…”

1605: at the bus stop, waiting for the 1613 journey of the 346 to Ashton-under-Lyne.

1615: bus emerges. Unusually for that time, a Y-reg Optare Solo is our trusty stead. The norm on First Greater Manchester’s Sunday journeys of the 346 is a 2014 Wright StreetLite single decker. In bus years, our Mighty Vessel was pushing 84 and should have been like Nana out of The Royle Family. Sat with Jim, Barbara, Anthony, Denise and Dave, then taking the free ‘paper home after Sunday dinner.

1625: S.V. and F.V. eschew ‘Spoons for pre-gig dinner, opting for The Prince of Orange, a fine, recently refurbished, iconic Robbies boozer in Ashton with an affordable menu and carvery. Firstly, we had had known the ‘Spoons menu off by heart to the point of boredom. So a change of scenery was considered.

1640: instead of the Sunday dinner (which we had at Chez Vall on the Saturday), we went for the Lamb Casserole.

1700: the Lamb Casserole turned out to be a good move. The suet dumplings were the fluffiest and the most moreish I have had for some time (Bury Market, 1998, being the last time I had anything of similar quality). Vegetables, spot on; meat, very tender; gravy, gorgeous; and the bread roll, well, it was a bread roll (which we should have left till last to mop up the gravy).

1710: home made style Apple Crumble and Ice Cream. Another good move. The dessert had hints of rolled oat and, along with the main, went well with the customary two pints of Unicorn.

1750: eschew Metrolink tram for rail replacement bus. Tram: 37 minutes and five minutes walk to the station from the Prince of Orange; Ashton railway station: across the road. Even with rail replacement buses, the latter was a no-brainer. So, Charlestown it was, for a 09 Reg coach to Victoria station. Departure time: 1802.

1825: at Manchester Victoria station much earlier than expected. The bus replacement service took 20 minutes – as good as the 153’s journey time in 1975 between Ashton and Manchester.

1845: at Manchester Arena following trip to Little Trainspotter’s Room. Turned out Major Stations were offering a Spring Special Offer at the lavatories – a Free Sunday Slash for all passengers! To be honest, the turnstile wasn’t working, so 30p saved. About the same price as a fare on the 220 service from Dukinfield to Manchester Victoria station in 1977.

The scenes at Manchester Victoria station were fairly busy, even at quarter to seven. After taking the stairs and passing two people begging for tickets, we got to the City Room of the arena. At this time, some 2,000 people were far from being alone in the universe.

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Act 2: “Come fill my little world right up…”

1900: my father and I took our positions at Section 109, Row P, Seats 5 and 6. As you would expect before a major gig, the pre-concert recorded music was reflective of our main act and the support act.

1925: by this time, the arena started to fill up properly. We went halves on a programme (£15.00! How many SaverSevens did that buy you when Out of the Blue was released? At least four).

1930: The Feeling, our support act arrived on the stage. On time, dead on half seven.

1950: The Feeling had taken me by surprise. Apart from the fact they write and perform their own songs (beat that, Mr. Cowheel, in your postmodern tripe factory!), they sounded far better as a live band than on the radio. Excellent stage presence, plus the fact I knew more songs by the Sussex and London-based group than I thought.

2012: Messrs Gillespie Sells and Co. had gone up in my estimation. Throughout their 40 minute set, they were a very good fit for Jeff Lynne’s ELO. I could hear traces of The Kinks, Supertramp, The Lightning Seeds, and the Electric Light Orchestra in their songs.

2035: obligatory trip to the loo before Jeff Lynne and Co. emerge. Background music, leaning towards music produced by, or featuring the great man himself. For instance, Tom Petty’s Free Falling, the obligatory Travelling Wilburys track, and George Harrison’s 1987 smash, Got My Mind Set on You.

2053: the wait is over and, boy were we awestruck along with 18,998 others. The opening bars and special effects that would follow – even in the opening bars of Tightrope – more than erased my memory of Stalybridge Celtic’s 5-2 defeat against Nuneaton Town the previous day.

“It’s either real or it’s a dream, there’s nothing that is in between…” – Twilight, Electric Light Orchestra, 1981.

2105: Jeff Lynne looked out to the 19,000-strong audience. He was absolutely awestruck, given it was three decades since he last did a Manchester gig.

After opening with Tightrope, we continued with Evil Woman, All Over The World, and Showdown. Throughout the 90 minutes, most of the songs from their mid to late 1970s peak were covered. The animated ELO spaceship and subsequent takes on the spacecraft were sensational. For Telephone Line, we saw the centre of the ship transformed into a twin dial telephone.

There was some deviations from the spaceship. With Don’t Bring Me Down, we had an animated colour cycling wire frame football. There was also lasers by the truckload, used to great effect in Turn To Stone. There was also a Western style backdrop for Wild West Hero (well, it is rude not to).

2110: Jeff Lynne and Co. played one of his newer songs. The John Lennon style When I Was A Boy was well received.

2200: the Manchester Arena crowd were ecstatic to say the least! As we headed towards the last half hour, we were introduced to the latest version of the Electric Light Orchestra. Though of little introduction to hardcore ELO fans, Richard Tandy was mentioned, before mentioning the present line-up.

His present line-up sounded every bit as good as the ELO of 1977. Instead of thinking that Iain Hornal or Milton McDonald were lending their vocal talents, an ear with ‘A’ Level standard of ELO knowledge could be forgiven for thinking the late Kelly Groucutt had returned to the band. Likewise with drummer Donavan Hepburn who took on Bev Bevan’s former role with ease.

Over the last half hour came the crowd pleasing numbers. Don’t Bring Me Down and Sweet Talkin’ Woman, being sung in unison, had a football crowd style atmosphere. This came to a head when the last pre-encore song, Mr Blue Sky was played. Electric was an understatement; considerably more than the 25kV a.c. installation underneath part of the arena toward Liverpool Lime Street.

2220: encore piece, Roll Over Beethoven. Not just an excellent choice. If you’ve seen their 1978 Wembley Arena concert (for what is now the I CAN charity) on DVD, VHS, Betamax, or Laserdisc (or live, if you’re lucky), they finished with this piece. Finishing their live performances with a magnificent cover of Chuck Berry’s song was always ELO’s stock in trade.

2230: all over. The end of what was probably the greatest concert I had ever had the joy of seeing. It eclipsed Half Man Half Biscuit’s last gig I went to at The Ritz in Manchester (2014) and Roger Hodgson’s the year before. All fantastic gigs but dwarfed by ELO’s sensational performance that Sunday night.

At that point, we missed the last direct tram to Ashton-under-Lyne. All was not lost, being as trams ran to Piccadilly till 2330. The last 219 to Ashton was 2320, so getting home wasn’t too much of a problem. It was, so to quote Jeff Lynne, “one of those nights.”

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Act 3: “…One of those nights when you feel the world stopped turning…”

2240: aboard a tram for Piccadilly Gardens. Journey too short for sitting down so stood up. This took us towards our 2300 journey of the 219 to Ashton-under-Lyne.

2250: ten minutes till bus. F.V., realising a lack of oven bottom muffins in Chez Vall, and I, nipped to TESCO Express behind the 219 stand. It was also a good excuse to spend 5p on a carrier bag, for the safe carriage of our £15.00 full colour programme.

2300: aboard 219 to Ashton. Bus, one of the latest versions of the Enviro400 double decker with a more angular windscreen and improved upstairs front and back windows.

2320: bus busier than we had expected for that time. Connection with 41 service to Chez Vall seemed parlous.

2330: alighted at Katherine Street next to laundrette. One of Stamford Cars’ finest seemed likely, but we took a punt on our 2335 journey of the 41 for Tennyson Avenue, cutting through Cotton Street.

2335: at the stand outside Tameside Hippodrome. One regular of the 2335 journey was stood by the stop. On arrival, two more passengers approached. They too boarded our 2300 journey of the 219 to Ashton (at the West End of Ashton-under-Lyne). With takeaways for home consumption.

2337: aboard the last 41 journey of MCT Travel’s Sunday service. A great end to a truly fantastic night.

2345: back home.

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Before 2014, the Electric Light Orchestra was seen as a bit of a guilty pleasure. That statement has never done Jeff Lynne any justice, to his enviable record as a singer-songwriter and producer. Manchester’s gig and previous events in the Alone in the Universe Tour hasn’t only succeeded in appealing to the converted, it has converted several people. The turning point, most definitely being their Hyde Park gig in 2014 which led to his blockbusting tour.

After goodness knows how long, he is getting the recognition he deserves. One enough to cement the second coming of the Electric Light Orchestra. Another studio album would do nicely too.

If you have the spare cash, please go to any of their subsequent gigs. The Feeling are also pretty good too, as well as the main feature. Their next Manchester gig is on the 22 June. You will be in for a massive treat.

If you cannot wait till the 22 June to see the real Electric Light Orchestra, The ELO Experience’s gig at the Palace Theatre, Manchester (28 April) may tide you over till then. For now, I shall leave you with these two numbers.

S.V., 15 April 2016.

Image Credit:

Jeff Lynne at Hyde Park, London (2014), by Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46511613

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