Last night Roachford played the Academy 3, on the second floor of the Manchester University Union building on Oxford Road.

I arrived just as the main set began and the sound quality was excellent. The ceiling was low; the room was hot; there was an enthusiastic crowd of several hundred but the place wasn’t jam-packed. I easily reached the front near the speakers.

Andrew Roachford sounds as amazing live as he does on record… and he is a natural performer. He and his band played a mix of old and new material, and the familiar songs sounded even better than the recorded versions in some cases. Intros were often faithful to recordings, but then arrangements would go off on a tangent, making the songs interesting to follow.

There are some YouTube recordings made last month at The Milky Way in Amsterdam, which give an idea of last night’s performance… although the sound quality isn’t as good as what we heard:

Roachford – This Generation (Amsterdam 12-09-2011)

And this is one of the songs from the new album Addicted performed in London last year:

Roachford – I Get High

Roachford’s brother Stephen plays acoustic guitar in the band. The two could not be more different from one another on-stage: Andrew is a ball of energy – he sometimes jumped so high, he looked as if he might knock himself out on the low ceiling.

Meanwhile his brother, whose acoustic guitar is one of the signature sounds of ‘Permanent Shade of Blue’, is wry and unassuming. And the band played quite a few songs from that album to my (and the rest of the crowd’s) delight. The other band members are David Levy on bass and Hendrik Smock on drums. Together, they produced a rich, sophisticated sound… musical genius, without being ‘muso’.

The band came on-stage not long after 9 o’clock, and they played until nearly 11; their encore lasted about half an hour because the crowd just wouldn’t let them go.

The last few songs included Cuddly Toy, Roachford’s first chart hit which I still have on 7″. It sounds quite different without the lead electric guitar sound… but still great. When it came out in 1989, nobody knew what to make of it – people found it strange that a black British man was singing a rock-type pop song, even though Prince had been getting away with doing exactly that for years.

And then finally there was a Manchester-specific encore in the form of ‘Wonderwall’! I got the feeling Roachford’s band could play anything they wanted on a whim. As the song ended, the drummer stood up and took a picture of the crowd!

The gig reminded me of seeing Curtis Mayfield at The International, Anson Road, in 1988 – a similar combination of classic songs, soulful musicality and an intimate setting. It’s a testament to the perversity of the British music business that Roachford isn’t filling much larger venues, but everyone else’s loss was my gain last night. It’s just a shame I forgot to put the memory card in my camera so I don’t have any photos or films to prove it!

Roachford – I Know You Don’t Love Me

There’s an interesting interview with Andrew Roachford here at www.bluesandsoul.com.