A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’, said ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. We all have dreams to conquer but few of us have the nerve to put fear aside and chase them by making that first move. Meet Manchester four-piece City Reign. Their full-length debut, Another Step, is a landmark guitar record fuelled by sheer ambition and ‘do or die’ attitude. It’s the culmination of their story so far, yet also just the first step planted on the road ahead.
“Ever since I was seven I’ve had a belief that this is the right thing for me to do. I don’t know how I’d get out of bed if I didn’t feel like I was doing something meaningful musically,” frontman Chris Bull says with conviction. This drive is shared by the three – Chris Bull (vocals/guitar), Michael Grice (guitar), Duncan Bolton (drums) – who’ve become stalwarts of the city’s live scene since moving there to study.
Debut single Making Plans gained praise from Steve Lamacq, who named City Reign one of his favourite new bands. Two more singles (Out In The Cold and Daybreak) and debut EP Numbers For Street Names, further cemented their reputation as a band who stand head and shoulders above the indie landfill. The latter propelled them on a UK tour and led to Clash Magazine asking them to open their inaugural issue launch gig in Manchester, recognising them as one of the best bands on the circuit.
The dream began when Mike Grice (by his own admission, the sexiest ginger haired guitarist since Josh Homme) and Chris Bull met at a Ryan Adams gig in their first year of university; the band's name comes from his City Rain, City Streets track. The two hit it off, bonding over a love of Adams, R.E.M, The National, and the mutual opinion that being in a band was the only way to be.
Their first break came as final year students when as a 21st birthday present Chris’ cousin got them time at Metropolis studio where she was working. Although the session got moved a few times because The Black Eyed Peas had rolled up, eventually they came out with Daybreak and Stay Where You Are, two of the album’s finer moments which mix the self-assurance of early Oasis with their own inimitable anthemic hooks. “After it was done we drove across London with a car full of gear and a two track CD on loop, neither of us saying anything, just beaming because we were so proud. Every time I record now I say if I die tomorrow I’ll be happy because I’ve done that,” says Chris.
The recording of Another Step took place in Salford’s Sacred Trinity Church, a sublime setting with free reverb coming via the stone walls and high ceiling. Upcoming Mancunian producer Sam Jones (Alex Turner) was at the helm, pushing the band to the limit. The result is an incredible album in which every note, every riff, every coruscating cymbal crash is an affirmation of what it means to be alive, from a group who only feel that way making music.
Recent single Ahead Of Ideas is Chris’ most "heart on a sleeve" song, a lyrical outpouring of both hope and despair, contemplating the highs and lows experienced so far, while building to a musical crescendo that answers any doubts with a string quartet and waves of iridescent guitars. The final line, ‘I think I’ve found what I was looking for’, fits perfectly on one of their finest moments to date.
“For the outro I remember saying to the producer ‘this song needs more chaos’ and I started bashing the church organ, playing really random notes. I had my headphones on and I couldn’t hear it. I was just thinking this’ll sound like jazz. It’ll be great. I turned around and the string quartet had just turned up and looked baffled. These super-talented, classically trained, proper musicians had been listening to this cacophonous mess for the last two minutes,” says Mike.
The quartet also feature on Retaliate, an intimate moment which instantly leaps out on first listen for its stripped-back openness – a real emotive track in which electric guitars are left behind. It’s an outstanding highlight which almost didn’t occur: “We had the recording session interrupted by a funeral,” laugh’s Mike. “A couple of old blokes walked into the church with an invitation to a memorial. It turned out the priest had double-booked it!”
Luckily everything made it onto the album, the unrelenting energy behind Anchor, the screeching guitar riffs of Making Plans, and the pounding drum march on The Line. This is indie done properly, like it used to be, made by people who live the music, not some disaffected hipsters.
For City Reign it was simple, either ‘get up every morning, go out and work hard for the things you don’t love’, as sung on See What It’s Worth, or take heed of Ahead Of Ideas’ lyrics – “Fill your heart full of conviction and take to the stage.”
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