"Thanks to the people who have come to every gig and not thrown anything at us" smiles Liz Hunt, singer with The School. Not much danger of that, I shouldn't think: for a start, hardly anyone here is under 40 that's not currently on the stage. A lot of people in indie-pop type bands like to affect a kind of cutesy shyness, but Liz comes across as genuinely quite unsure about the spotlight, glad to have a keyboard in front of her. But then it's not every day the band you started with your boyfriend (and apparently initially wanted someone else to take the lead, but never found the right person) gets to support one of the greatest and most legendary bands from the 80s indie explosion.
There couldn't have been a better choice, though: The Primitives' recent covers album - and the basis for this tour - delves deep into the archives of forgotten sixties female-fronted pop and a world where Phil Spector wasn't yet a murderer or even a legend but just a bloke who knew how he thought pop music should sound. A world from whose core ingredients of sunshine and melancholy Liz and her friendly-looking eight-strong band take a huge dollop of inspiration. Lines like "Stop that boy, he stole my heart" could have come straight off the Motown soundtrack of some retro teen film about coming of age while working shifts in the diner, while a sprinkling of Sarah Records wistfulness and sparing use of a trumpet places the sound firmly on this side of the Atlantic.
The stage is set, adorned with a string of coloured lights, a table lamp complete with Keith Moon photo lampshade and a flowery drumkit, and we wait. And wait. This is OK - you can't hurry Indie Pop Royalty - and anyway, what's a few more minutes on 26 years? From a personal point of view I can't recall a longer time between buying a band's record and finally getting to see them. Paul Court's tumbling fringe and indie dreamboy pout was pinned over the desk where I did my school homework; male friends remember similar dreams about Tracy Tracy. They were young and pretty, a Debbie Harry and Chris Stein for the teenagers of 80s crap towns, a bit of glamour in a musical world generally populated by the spotty and plain... they can't be old, can they?
He walks out onstage first, fringe still intact and looking a good ten years younger than it's physically possible for him to be; the years have been equally kind to classic-era drummer Tig. Hippie-haired bassist Steve is sadly no longer with us - it was partly his passing that catalysed the remaining three's 2009 return (with Raph Moore on bass) after 17 years away. She lets them start the introduction before bouncing out in front of them, tiny even in heels with her now strawberry blonde hair and sparkly skirt, and it's like the 90s and 00s never happened. What have these people been eating?
The set flips constantly between the aforementioned excavated gems and their own classic hits (top 20, and that really didn't happen to bands like this then) and the incredible thing is that had you landed here without knowing, you'd be hard pushed to pick which were which. Moreover, all would fit quite happily into today's indie pop scene: the two minute rush that is early single "Really Stupid" should be on school curricula filed under "This is pop music" while even the much later, grungier - and, I seem to recall, rather unpopular with fans st the time - "Sick Of It" sounds great. The new / old / borrowed stuff? A Lee Hazelwood number aside, I could tell you what any of it was, and that's the point really: these tunes were lost, stuck away in mouldering piles of ex-jukebox sevens and dusty attics, and they were far too good for that fate. There are blokes who won't see 40 again bopping like they're back at the student disco.
"Who knows whose birthday it is today?" asks Tracy, batting her ridiculously long eyelashes and making said blokes' hearts leap a little. Morrissey's, apparently, the man who gave the fledgling band's career a massive boost when he was photographed wearing a "Stop Killing Me" T-shirt. The song is dedicated to him; it had to be. And then there's The Hit, of course: the one that still gets a run-out even on the most mainstream of radio stations, the one that will ensure The Primitives are never one of those forgotten names. It's fizzy, it's brilliant, and everyone sings along to the best ever backing vocals in the history of pop. "That was our version of the popular song by The Primitives called 'Crash'" smiles Paul. And it was amazing to hear it live after all these years.
Subsequent events in Manchester (if you're reading this sometime in the future, the following afternoon The Stone Roses sprung a surprise gig in Warrington a month ahead of their official reunion shows) have reopened the increasingly boring debate about old bands versus new bands blah blah blah. At the end of the day, who cares? We just watched a band in their 40s playing their hits from the 80s alongside borrowed bits of the 60s, ably supported by a band from the 00s-10s, and it just all sounded like bloody good pop music.